BENGALURU: Disappointment, setback, frustration. In a chat with some top swimmers, these words came up frequently. Swimming pools across the country remain closed due to the pandemic, leaving the likes of Virdhawal Khade, Srihari Nataraj and others in a fix. Six swimmers have attained the B qualification mark for Tokyo Olympics. Their goal of achieving the A mark keeps getting distant as swimming facilities stay inaccessible.
Freestyle swimmer Khade feels if pools do not open soon, making the A cut will be difficult. “Whenever we start training in the pool, it will be from zero. We will take another five to six months of training to reach the level we were in March or earlier. A couple of months from now, if we are still not in the pool, we are is unlikely to see anyone (Indian) making the A cut,” Khade said.
Khade attained B qualification mark last year, with a timing of 22.44s in 50m freestyle. Sajan Prakash (200m butterfly, 1:58.45), Srihari (100m backstroke, 54.69s), Kushagra Rawat (800m freestyle, 8:07.99), Aryan Makhija (800m freestyle, 8:07.80) and Advait Page (800m freestyle, 8:00.76) have also achieved the B mark, which does not guarantee a Tokyo ticket. Only an A cut, which is always an uphill task, assures that. For Khade the target is 22.01, 1:56:48 for Sajan and 53.85 for Srihari. Rawat, Page and Makhija have to clock 7:54:31.
Among the six, Sajan is the luckiest. He is training in Thailand. “In USA, Australia and also in Europe and other countries, swimmers are training. The rest of the world was already ahead of us when we were at our peak. As we took a few steps back, others are improving,” added the 28-year-old Khade, who recently pondered retirement. He is still to take a final call.
With stadia and sports complexes opening in some states, other disciplines are gradually getting back to training. Track and field athletes have started light work at SAI centers. Wrestlers are sparring with dummies. Hockey players are at home now, but their training had started in Bengaluru before they left.
“It is a drawback that we cannot train. I hope the government gives permission to open pools soon. They can at least open for those who are close to achieving Olympic qualification and may be also for others. It is frustrating that other athletes have been allowed to train, but not swimmers,” Srihari said.
The Swimming Federation of India is aware of the problem. Officials are trying to get swimmers back in pool for training, making requests to the government, but nothing has happened so far.
Despite that, Dronacharya award-winning coach Nihar Ameen remains positive. “I am hopeful the pools will open and our swimmers can start swimming. The sooner we get the good news, the better.”