Indian swimmers confident of ticket to Tokyo Olympic Games

Dubai: The three Olympics-bound Indian swimmers currently camping in the UAE are willing to give it their best shot and assert their rightful entry at next year’s Tokyo Games.

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Srihari Nataraj (100m backstroke), Khushagra Rawat (400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle) and Sajan Prakash (200m butterfly) landed at the Aqua Nation Swimming Academy (ANSA) situated at the Swiss International School in Dubai’s Al Jaddaf area earlier this week, for an intensive two-month training towards Olympic qualification under coaches, Pradeep Kumar and AC Jayarajan.

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All three swimmers have ‘B’ qualifying times, but they have less than 10 months to all make the ‘A’ grade times and cement definite spots for Tokyo.

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“It’s been so many months without training in a pool. For a swimmer this is like a nightmare. It’s like all of us have to start from way below zero. But now that we have got this opportunity, we are all bent on making the best use of this and fighting for our places for the Olympics,” Bengaluru’s Sajan Prakash told Gulf News.

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“The next two or three weeks are going to be most important, especially for me as I would need to get back to my normal form before building up towards the ‘A’ time and qualifying for Tokyo.”

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A regular in Dubai for the past few years, Sajan’s anxiety is genuine. With a scholarship from world governing body FINA, the 26-year-old has been based at the Thanyapura Swimming Centre in Phuket, Thailand since the past five years. However, of late, he has been battling a neck and shoulder injury that has affected his preparations.

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“Hopefully, everything will be well here and I will be back to my best where I can go all out and get the qualifying time for Tokyo,” he said.

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The camp, organised by the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) and Sports Authority of India (SAI), will ensure all three swimmers have the right platform to pursue their dreams towards gaining proper times to qualify for next year’s postponed Tokyo Games. Two other swimmers, Aryan Makhija and Advait Page, are already training in the United States, while Asian Games bronze medallist Virdhawal Khade who was also scheduled to attend the camp in Dubai, pulled out citing personal reasons.

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“I am glad to get such an opportunity to be in a pool during this tough time. But first things first, I need to lose some excess weight and get back to normal fitness and shape,” Srihari said.

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“Everything was going normally for me and we had a well-worked out plan towards qualifying. And then came this pandemic and everything had to be put on hold for the time-being. But the break has given me some additional time to think and ponder,” the 19-year-old from Bengaluru added.

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Delhi-based Rawat, who has logged ‘B’ times for all three events (400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle) is keen to play catch up using his nearly two months in Dubai. “The endurance is pretty bad at the moment. By the end of this training camp, I want to be back to what I was before the lockdown,” the 20-year-old said.

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“I truly enjoy coach Pradeep’s [Kumar] long distance workouts. I saw the progress I made the last time I was with him. So I am quite keen to put in a lot of hard work and do my best to get to those ‘A’ times for Tokyo.”

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AC Jayarajan, who is accompanying the trio as coach, is hopeful all can make the next step due to their training stint in Dubai. “This is a good opportunity for all three swimmers and I am glad to see them so serious in all that they are doing here. The main focus now will be to ensure none of them get any sort of injury,” he said.

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“This camp is the first part of their process to Tokyo, and I expect all three swimmers to be ready to deliver with their best times. We have to now wait for FINA to release the dates for various competitions and then we can decide which one of these they can compete and qualify.”

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Pradeep Kumar, who has been with ANSA since its inception nearly two years back, was confident the three swimmers can make due progress and head to Tokyo next year. “All three are focused on what they want from this training stint,” the Indian chief coach said.

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“And all three have shown progression in and out of the swimming pool. The next couple of weeks will be crucial in getting them back to their fitness levels, after which we can push them towards bettering their best times in their respective events.”

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With two training sessions every day, the swimmers have been accommodated in a nearby hotel in the Al Jaddaf area itself so that they can make the best use of their stay in Dubai.

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