Commonwealth Games 2022: Can India win a historic medal in swimming?
From struggling to even form a swimming team, India have come a long way. Going by timings, Sajan Prakash could even win India's first swimming medal at the 2022 CWG.
Swimming has gained massive popularity in India over the years, but the unthinkable could happen this year. Going by data of personal bests and marks set at the 2018 CWG, we could have a first-ever medal is swimming in these prestigious Games.
In the post-Independence years when our swimmers started taking part in international level competitions for the first time, we floundered badly because of limited understanding of the sport. As a result, we could barely form a swimming team for prestigious events such as the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.
While open water swimmers like Mihir Sen and Bula Choudhury had already made India proud, success at competitive events like the CWG always eluded us.
Indian swimmers in CWG history
As the Melbourne gates opened for the 2006 edition of the CWG, India introduced four swimmers: Rehan Poncha, Arjun Muralidharan, Puneet Rana and Shikha Tandon. All four swimmers gave their best but could not make a mark.
With another four years in hand before the next edition, the Indian Swimming Federation trained and introduced 20 new swimmers, 10 para swimmers, and 3 divers. The main ones were Virdhawal Khade, Sandeep Sejwal, Prasanta Karmarkar and J Agnishwar. The swimmers trained at multiple venues such as Pune, South Africa and parts of the US and Europe. These efforts seemed to pay off in 2010, as the Indian team came up with its best performance till that date. Virdhawal Khade was one of the swimmers to reach the semi-finals, as he set some new national records on his way. However, a medal was still a long way away.
Para swimmer Prasanta Karmakar swooped in to erase the disappointment in 2010, becoming the first Indian to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games. Fans of the sport celebrated maniacally. His medal was something that nobody had expected, as he was one of the first to take part in the Paralympic events for the nation.
In 2014, India faced a familiar setback, as the large number of swimmers from the previous edition was cut down to six.
The 2018 edition was a year of hope for the Indian Swimming team as it focused on just three male and two female swimmers. While they participated in a fixed number of events, the coaches aimed to look at peak performance. The Gold Coast Games contingent had established swimmers in Virdhawal Khade and Sajan Prakash and a few fresh additions in Srihari Natraj, Vaishnavi Jagtap and Kiran Tak.
Khade and Natraj suffered disappointments, as they could not go past their heats. However, Sajan Prakash showed tremendous improvement by becoming the only swimmer to jump into the finals for two out of three events.
Hopes pinned on Sajan, Srihari
Sajan Prakash could go one better this time, by winning India's first swimming medal at the 2022 CWG, going by numbers.
This year, four swimmers will represent the nation across various events. Sajan will be in the 50m, 100m, and 200m butterfly events, Srihari Natraj will be in the 50m, 100m, and 200m backstroke events, Kushagra Rawat will be in the 200m, 400m, and 1500m freestyle events, with Advit Page competing alongside him for the 1500m event.
Of all these four, veteran swimmer Sajan Prakash, who is set to make his third CWG appearance, is the one to watch out for.
Sajan recently became the first Indian swimmer to qualify with a FINA 'A' Olympic qualification mark as he broke the 1:56:38 time in the 200m Butterfly. Apart from this, Sajan also holds the national record for the same event that he set at the 2021 Sette Colli Trophy held in Foro Italico in Rome.
In the CWG brochure released by SAI, Sajan was pegged as a medal hopeful for this year. There is justification for this too. His time of 1:56:38 set recently would have placed him in the bronze medal spot, going by the marks set at the 2018 CWG.
21-year-old Srihari Natraj, a second-time CWG participant, also has an outside chance to make it to the podium, going by numbers. After a major setback in 2018, Natraj has tremendously improved as he clocked some of the best timings in recent swim meets. His recent best time of 25.69 would have placed him at 5th spot in the 2018 CWG final.
Both Sajan and Srihari will be in action on the first day of the 2022 CWG on Friday.