With Sajan Prakash's direct qualification for Tokyo Olympics, is there still hope for Srihari Natraj?
While Sajan's feat is probably one of the biggest highlights of Indian sporting history, it came at a cost. The cost, though, might be paid by fellow countryman - Srihari Natraj.
Sajan Prakash created history yesterday when he became the first-ever Indian swimmer to earn a direct qualification Olympics by surpassing the 'A' qualification standard. The 27-year-old clocked 1:56.38 minutes in the 200m butterfly event at the Sette Colli Trophy in Rome to force his way into the Indian contingent for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
While Sajan's feat is probably one of the biggest highlights of Indian swimming history, it, like all the things in life, came at a cost. The cost of Sajan Prakash's qualification, though, might be paid by yet another talented swimmer from the country – Srihari Natraj.
Just 20-years-old, Srihari Natraj is considered to be the next big thing. Such has been his performances during the past few years that the Swimming Federation of India (SFI), when presented with the opportunity to nominate two of its swimmers for the Universality Quota, chose Natraj over the more experienced Sajan Prakash.
In fact, Srihari Natraj himself came close to breaking the Olympic 'A' qualification standard just a day before Sajan actually did it. The 20-year-old clocked an impressive 53.90 seconds in the 100m backstroke at the Sette Colli Trophy in Rome on Friday. Even though this was a national record in the event, Natraj fell agonisingly short of the 'A' qualification standard, which was set at 53.85 seconds.
Those 0.05 seconds meant that Srihari Natraj failed to earn a direct qualification to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and this was the final Olympic qualification event in Swimming.
What next for Srihari Natraj?
According to the Olympic qualification rules set by World Swimming Federation (FINA), only the countries which do not have swimmers qualified through the Olympic Qualification Time (OQT), i.e. the 'A' cut, or through the Olympic Selection Time (OST), i.e. the 'B' qualification mark, would be eligible for the Universality Quota.
Now with Sajan Prakash making it through the OQT or the 'A' cut, one thing for sure is that Srihari Natraj is no longer eligible to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics through the Universality Quota.
Can Srihari Natraj still qualify for Tokyo Olympics?
Well, yes. Srihari Natraj can still make it through to the Tokyo Olympics on the basis of the OST, which he has achieved multiple times. But, the OST will apply only if all the available quotas are not completely filled by the time the qualification period ends on 27th June 2021.
Though qualifying for the Olympics this way looks a bit uncertain, all the hopes are not yet over for Srihari Natraj.