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Asian Games 2018

A new dawn of Swimming in India

A new dawn of Swimming in India
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Published: 21 Aug 2018 3:29 AM GMT
Competitive level swimming in India, or the lack thereof, is a rather peculiar thing. For one thing, you cannot complain about a lack of infrastructure as is probably the case across most sports in the country. World-class facilities require time and investment- things that are often lacking if one objectively views the Indian sports scene. With swimming, however, participation by people from India is huge. Over the years, it has evolved as more of a hobby than a sustainable career choice. Is lack of recognition an issue? Are wannabe swimmers even aware of the viability of the sport as a career? These questions remain unanswered. Although, it was probably what prompted Virdhawal himself to almost give up the sport after 2010. From 2012 to 2016, he was away from all competition but his progress, albeit slow, was steady. At the Asian Games in 2010, he covered 50m in 22.84 seconds while in the Asian Games qualifying round this year, he clocked 22.52 seconds, which is better. Certainly going places, but is the ripple strong enough? The situation might change very soon. At least the signs seem good. While Indian swimmers like Khajan Singh, Mihir Sen and Arati Saha are littered through history, India has failed to produce a stable, inspiration when it comes to swimming for a long time. That was, of course, before the rise of a certain Virdhawal Khade. Today, he missed out on a Bronze by a mere 1/100th of a second in the 50mt Backstroke. After he became the youngest Indian swimmer to qualify for an Olympics, the road to continually bettering himself has been a whirlwind journey of sorts for Virdhawal. His most significant moment of glory came in the 2010 Asian Games where he returned with Bronze in the 50mt Butterfly event. Sachin Nag was the first Indian to win a swimming gold medal in 1951 Asian games held in New Delhi. You can get a sense of how far Indian swimming has come if you just consider the recent events. After a long hiatus and a successful comeback after it, Indian swimming has been joined by more names. There's Sandeep Sejwal- a compatriot of Virdhawal's. The 2016 Olympics in Rio brought out a new face in Sajan Prakash. And now, of course, there's the lad who is ruling the senior pool of swimmers despite being just 17- Srihari Natraj. At the ongoing Asian Games, Khade, Prakash and Natraj have all set and broken old national records- a sign of things to come. The rapid pace in which this current roster of Indian swimmers is constantly setting new benchmarks is an excellent sign. What's even more heartening is the varied age groups that we see among these players. While on the one hand, Khade remains the indomitable senior, you have Srihari Natraj on the other. The teenaged Srihari will undoubtedly prove to be a significant cause for young swimmers who will be inspired into taking up the sport in future. Because why not? He personifies the grace, discipline and poise that one needs to be indeed called a champion. The fact that he breaks a national record almost every time he takes to the pool only cements his status as one to watch out for in the very near future. Coming to the 2018 Asian Games currently in Jakarta, Kerala’s Sajan Prakash and Karnataka’s Srihari Nataraj broke National records in the men’s 200m butterfly and 100m backstroke. Nataraj finished first in the heat clocking 55.86 seconds even as compatriot Arvind Mani finished second but failed to qualify. Neither won medals for India, and it might be straightforward to fixate on that. An accurate understanding of swimming would enable us to put both feats in the context of a larger picture. The change is slow but steady. In the current circumstances, that is one positive we should take away from this. Today, Virdhawal Khade continued the trend of toppling National records at the Asian Games. His timing of 22.43 seconds in the 50mt Freestyle Heats was enough for him to win his heats and consequently make it to the final. But there is another stat we must consider. https://twitter.com/g_rajaraman/status/1031731169648209920 While
writing
for The Bridge earlier back in June, Virdhawal said, "Previously, just participating in the Asian Games was a huge thing for us, but now swimmers are preparing for making a mark in the events, they are eyeing a podium finish although there is no guarantee of happening so." He could not be more right. Consistent performances in open meets- on one occasion it was Virdhawal himself who outpaced a former Olympic champion in Singapore earlier this year- and an overall zeal to constantly get better; these are the factors that define Indian swimming today. The lack of women who are good enough to notch competitive timings across all levels may be a worrying sign but with the way things are progressing, the stability of swimming as a sport in India is set to increase. The rest of the loose ends can be tied up after. (Fast&Up represents the latest innovations in sports nutrition from around the world being available to every Indian who aspires to maintain an active lifestyle)
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