On Tuesday, three-time Olympic champion swimmer Stephanie Rice announced plans to set up her academy in India by next year in a bid to provide the high level international coaching experience that the country has been missing.
The former Australian, who won three gold medals at the Beijing Games in 2008, told reporters in Mumbai, “The biggest contribution that I can make, that’s probably lacking a little bit, is the high-level international coaching experience in India.”
“I plan on being in India at my academy for three to four months on average,” she added. “I could take my swimming academy to anywhere in the world and it would do well. But India’s a market that I feel I can make the biggest impact and have the biggest growth.”
World class academies and coaches are the need of the hour
Considering the country’s position in the competitive swimming world, given the abysmal record Indian swimmers at the highest stage, Rice’s announcement could not have come at a better time.
Presently, in India, a swimmer qualifying for the Olympic Games calls for celebrations. Such is the state, that even the national record timings are still some way off the Olympic qualification marks. The likes of Sajan Prakash, Srihari Nataraj, among others have been claiming medals from the ongoing Asian meet in Bengaluru but at the international level, they are nowhere near.
Sajan, one of India’s current best swimmers, holds the national record in 200m medley (02:05.83), 200m butterfly (01:57.73) and 400m freestyle (03:54.93). Impressive timings, right?
Just for consideration, here are the Olympic Qualification Timings (OQT) for men’s 200m medley, 200m butterfly and 400m freestyle at Tokyo 2020 are respectively 1:59.67, 1:56.48, 3:46.78. Now do Sajan’s timings still impress you?
In a country which has a population of over 1.3 billion there should be no dearth in talent. What the country lacks are infrastructure and professionally-managed coaching programmes to produce top-level athletes. And that is why the need of the hour are world class academies and coaches.
Why India needs to focus on producing world-class swimmers?
Swimming, after athletics, simply offers the most number of medals at any big-ticket multi-sport events. Countries like Australia, China, Japan and the USA, dominate the waters and take home all the swimming medals.
In case you haven’t noticed, these are the countries that finish on top of the medal tally. If, in the near future, India are to breach the top half of the medal tally at Olympics, it is imperative that the country takes swimming more seriously.
There is so much scope for the Swimming Federation of India (SFI), there are so many things that they can focus on. Apart from organising the National Championships and the National Junior Championships, the body has shown little to no efforts to host any major events.
The other tournaments where swimmers can compete against one another are organised by the Sports Ministry or the School Games Federation of India. It seems like the SFI is comfortable unearthing talents from the competitions like the Asian Age-Group Championships and the South Asian Games.
At a time when athletics, shooting, table tennis, badminton and other sports are taking massive strides forward in the country, only swimming is lagging behind. To grow as a sporting powerhouse, India must concentrate on their performances in the pool.