Kolkata: Indian swimmers became sudden a talking point in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics last year when two of them – Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj –earned qualifying marks with ‘A’ cut-off marks. There was also a third member, Maana Patel, who qualified as an University entrant.
It would have been unfair to consider them as medal hopes, but were their performance a flash in the pan or can they do an encore for Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this year ? ‘’Yes, there could be expectations, but the reality is we still have some catching up to do. Qualification for the big events is a criterion that we need to focus on a lot. Last time, both Sajan and Srihari qualified with only 30 days to go before Tokyo and there was really no time to work on their timings,’’ remarked Pradeep Kumar, the Dronacharya awardee Head Coach of Dubai-based Aqua National Sports Academy (ANSA), in charge of the Indian national team.
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The situation has not changed tangibly in terms of number of top swimmers on offer and Sajan Prakash, a 200 metres butterfly specialist, is Kumar’s best bet again to qualify for Commonwealth Games – which offers a rich depth in field with swimmers from England and Australia.
Conceding that there is still a long way to go, Kumar said during a chat with Gulf News: ‘’There are a good number of juniors coming the ranks and Vedaant (Madhavan) is one of them. However, the leap from the junior to the senior level is a huge one while another problem for our female swimmers is a lot of them don’t graduate to senior level after showing promise as juniors.’’
How difficult is it for young Indian swimmers under his tutelage in Dubai to balance between swimming and academics? The veteran coach was quite upfront this time: ‘’If you want to pursue excellence, there cannot be any compromise. In India, even a small achievement gets highlighted but these kids should learn to keep their focus. They can look Sachin Tendulkar as a role model of a responsible athlete.’’