Srihari Nataraj has been a bright prospect for Indian swimming for some time now, but the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022 showed just why. He finished 5th, 7th and 9th in his three events, making his campaign the best ever campaign for an Indian swimmer in a multi-sports global event of this scale.
Srihari participated in three events in Commonwealth Games 2022- 50 M backstroke, 100 M backstroke, 200 M backstroke. He finished 5th in 50M backstroke finals, 7th in 100 M backstroke finals and finished 9th overall in 200 M backstroke heats and missed a place in the finals by 14 milliseconds, but this swim was historic as he created the new national record at the event.
Natraj clocked a record timing of 02:00:84 which is better than his previous timing of 02:01:70 from the 2019 Junior World Championships.
Sometimes, the Indian sports fan is blinded by the sheen of medals, so Srihari's feats may get forgotten in a few days. But despite the lack of medals, this is one of the best showings by any Indian swimmer in terms of a multi-sports event - perhaps even the best.
Where does Srihari stand at the continental/world level?
Srihari's best performance at CWG 2022 was in Men's Backstroke 50 M. He finished fifth with a time of 25.23 seconds in the finals. Srihari missed the podium by 0.26 seconds. Srihari finished seventh in 100 M Men's Backstroke with a timing of 54.31 seconds. He again missed the podium by 0.25 seconds.
The timings Srihari clocked during these three events were close to the podium in the Commonwealth Games but these timings won't fetch him podium places in multi-sports events such as Asian Games and Olympics.
Indian swimming has been waiting for a breakthrough moment for a few years now, with Sajan Prakash having flown the flag high. Srihari, with his performance here, has come the closest yet to that breakthrough.
Best performance by any Indian Swimmer ever?
Terming this performance by Srihari at the age of 21 as one of the best by any swimmer won't be any stretch for the fact that Srihari has been incredibly consistent.
At the three major multi-sports events, Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth, India has only won medals at the Asian Games and the majority of them coming at the 1951 Asian Games.
Two Asian Games medals which India won in 2010 and 2014 were silver and bronze in the 50 M butterfly and 50 M Breaststroke but those were just one-time shows. Virdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal won these medals.
During their medal finishes, Khade and Sejwal both stood more than 50 seconds behind the gold medal while Srihari finished 50 seconds behind the gold medalist and came 5th and 7th.
With growing competition on the international level, Srihari's consistency gives confidence to the Indian aquatics community.