THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: That’s the toast of the season! Four Indian swimmers have booked their berths for the upcoming FINA World Championships to be held in Kazan, Russia from July. This is for the first time that more than two swimmers from the country have qualified for the prestigious competition.
While Kerala’s pride Sajan Prakash, who swam to his fourth gold in the 35th National Games on Wednesday, is the focus of attention at the International Aquatics Complex in Pirappancode, Aaron D’Souza, Virdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal too qualified for the global event after stellar perfomances. Sajan carried on his good form into the fourth day of aquatics as he won the 200m butterfly event with a games record, bettering Kerala’s K Sureshkumar’s 18-year-old record.
The icing, however, was his qualification for the world championship in the event. Set to compete against another heavyweight D’Souza, Sajan clipped a good six seconds of the existing record to finish in 2 minutes and 0.69 secs. In the pursuit, he also cleared the B-1 entry standard of 2:01.48 secs for Kazan event. He had earlier made the cut in 1,500 m freestyle during another record-breaking effort in the Senior National Aquatics Championships in Kolkota last November, timing in at 15:45.83 secs to finish well inside the B-1 entry mark of 15:45.97 secs.
In the National Games so far, Sajan has etched six medals.
Terming his performance phenomenal, former international swimmer and Kerala coach Wilson Cherian said Sajan can become India’s leading swimmer at the Asian level. “He is an Asian Games medal stuff anytime. But he should be properly looked after,” Wilson told Express.
Meanwhile, national coach Pradeep Kumar said the focus would be given to events in which Sajan has qualified for the World Championships. “We had made a clear plan regarding that. More emphasis will be given to events he has qualified for. There are also plans to send the World Championship-qualified swimmers, including Sajan, for foreign training,” he said.
Karnataka’s Aaron D’ Souza of Bengaluru, who won the 200m freestyle here with a new Games record of 1:52.06 secs, qualified against the B-1 entry mark of 1:52.16 secs.
Virdhawal Khade, who made a return to swimming in November after a two-year hiatus, caught the Kazan bus, courtesy of his record-creating show in the 50m freestyle. Touted as the fastest Indian, Khade finished in 0:23.00 secs, a whisker below the cut-off mark of 0:23.03 secs.
Asian Games bronze-medallist Sandeep Sejwal was impressive as he won the slot in 200m breaststroke. Sejwal registered an impressive time of 2:13.53 against the cut-off mark of 2:16.32. However, none of the female swimmers made into the Indian team for Kazan.
Sandeep also qualified in the men’s 50m breaststroke event crossing the line in 0:27.98 against the cut off mark of 0:28.55. According to Kamlesh Nanavati, general secretary of the Swimming Federation of India, the standard of Indian swimming has improved in the last 10 years.