India kickstarted an exhilarating campaign on the opening day of the 10th Asian Age Group Swimming Championships by winning gold in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay event. The Championships event is hailed as the best platform to gauge Olympians Sajan Prakash, Virdhawal Khade, and teenager Srihari Nataraj against Asia’s best before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Having secured a ‘B’ qualification time for Tokyo Olympics already, the trio of Sajan, Srihari, and Virdhawal Khade will look to achieve the ‘A’ standard Olympic qualification mark as they spearhead the Indian challenge at the largest aquatic championships in Asia.
Held at the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence, the nine-day competition will see over a thousand participants participating in four disciplines namely swimming, diving, water polo, and artistic swimming. The 44-member Indian squad will be piloted by ace swimmer Sajan taking part in the 100m, 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley. His compatriot Virdhawal will be eyeing on ‘A’ cut-off in the 50m freestyle event, besides participating in the 100m freestyle and 50m butterfly event.
Earlier both Srihari and Sajan have achieved the B-qualification mark, in the 100m backstroke and 200m butterfly respectively. Srihari’s personal best of 54.69, clocked at the World Junior Swimming Championships last month, is an impressive 0.84 seconds behind the qualifying A-mark. Besides, Srihari will participate in the 50m and 200m backstroke as well as the 100m freestyle event.
In an exclusive interview with The Bridge, Srihari said,
He further added, “I’m not that close to the ‘A’ qualification but I’m pretty confident that I can get them. I just need to get the races done right and it’s just the matter of when it’s gonna happen. And I’m pretty sure that I’m gonna do it by this year itself.”
In the women’s section, sprinter Rujuta Khade, backstroker Maana Patel, and middle-distance swimmer Shivani Kataria will look to swell India’s total medal tally in the event.
The event will feature top contenders from countries like Japan, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Thailand, Kazakstan. “The home advantage will surely be a driving force and we have kept the ‘A’ cut time in mind during our training in the lead up to this event. We are confident of a good show and personally I am looking to swim faster than the Senior Nationals last month,” Virendra Nanavati, Executive Director of Swimming Federation of India told PTI. “Based on past results, it’s not as hard as I think. But we can’t underestimate the Chinese and the Japanese. And we also pretty good seniors in India who swim backstroke,” said Srihari.