19 surgeries and breaking an Asian Record later, para-swimmer Niranjan eyes World C'Ships glory
Shattering a 12-year-old Asian record, Paralympian swimmer Niranjan Mukundan is ready to create ripples at the upcoming World Championships and Commonwealth Games and brave the competition full of "dark horses".
"I was rather nervous before swimming the 800m, like every other athlete, even we have the jitters before any competition," para-swimmer Niranjan Mukundan says, his mind reeling back to the few moments before he took the plunge and swam his heart and lungs out and shattered a 12-year-old Asian record by a whopping margin of 50 seconds last weekend at the Czech Republic.
The montage plays out in his mind as the Tokyo-returned Paralympian tells The Bridge, "It's always good to know that you are the best in something in the whole of one continent, this acts as a perfect boost for my preparation for the season ahead," the 27-year-old mentions.
Busy training in Germany for the upcoming World Championships in Portugal and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, para-swimmer Niranjan Mukundan has been on cloud nine ever since he clocked 11:17:22 and replaced the previous record held by a South Korean swimmer (12:10:34) in the men's 800m freestyle swimming category during the Para Swimming Cup event in the Czech Republic, where he finished with a whopping 6 medals - 3 golds, 2 silvers, 1 bronze.
"In swimming, anything can happen! A few micro-seconds can put you on the podium and a few micro-seconds can keep you off it, making you watch others win a medal as you clap along, there is no in-between," Mukundan, a former World Junior Champion, chuckles and mentions.
Truth be told, swimming can be quite challenging and in many ways, it is a brutal sport, unlike the apparent ease with which these swimmers make it for the eyes. Instead, it is a sheer battle of lungs, correct technique, blended with the dash of speed and of course, a pinch of luck - all Niranjan prizes the most before any competition and the fruits of it he continues to reap, with dedicated practice.
How a delayed Asian Games can be a boon
Despite having undergone 19 surgeries, Niranjan's never-say-never attitude is the one that rings out sharpest as he continued, "I've been training hard with the German coaches here and also rubbing shoulders in training sessions with world record holders and Paralympic medallists, this is the start that I needed for the season," he explained.
Therefore when the news of the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games getting postponed surfaced, Mukundan was easily disappointed, "My training was planned in a way so that I can peak during the World Championships, Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games - those were the big events for us. With Asiad getting postponed this way by a year, it's a bit of a bummer for us," he said.
For para-swimmers, the Asian Games would have acted as the first qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics and Niranjan who made it to the Tokyo Paralympics on a bi-partite quota, is on the lookout to get the earliest window of qualification for Paris hence.
"With the Asiad not being there, I will have to revamp and restructure and reset my training schedule, now that 2023 will be fully jam-packed. A lot of decisions will have to be taken, whether I will be competing or training or both, my coaches and I will decide accordingly," he explained.
However, Mukundan doesn't deny the silver lining to this postponement either and mentioned, "This will actually give me a breather, in fact, I can prepare better for 2023 now," the para-swimmer who specialises in the 50m butterfly, and 100m freestyle, 200m individual medley events mentioned.
Moreover, it's no mystery that swimming is still in its nascent stages in India when it comes to having a culture around it as a sport and quite naturally hence, India is starved of regular tournaments. Moreover, for para-swimming, the situation is only direr, with even fewer competitions.
Not just India, in fact, the whole of Asia does not have swimming competitions with as much frequency as the European nations, making it an easy choice for Niranjan to temporarily shift his base to Germany and train with the team there.
Furthermore, commuting to and fro to the neighbouring nations for events is also easily achieved and for the travel addict that Niranjan is, Germany serves as the perfect base to hone his skills and also take care of his wanderlust desires.
Not only that, aside from competing for India, Niranjan also became the first Indian para-swimmer to sign up with a professional league in Germany, where his competitive hunger is nurtured.
"Earlier I would not participate in so many competitions but once I came to Europe for my training, it took me a while to get adapted to this regular competition mode. But turns out, this happened as a boon for me because now I know where I stand as compared to others and where I have to improve," Niranjan reflected.
"Over here, every swimmer is a dark horse. You can't really predict who will win on which day, there is a lot of potential to surprise hence," he continues, talking about the kind of competition he faces during the international events.
Committed to training only harder now, driven by the high of breaking an Asian record, Niranjan has his eyes set on the immediate future where he hopes he can do India proud and ruffle the pages of history some more, come the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games, where he'd like to emerge as the white horse for the country, instead.