This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Indian swimming has been walking the ‘oblivion’ path for far too long. Medals were hard to come by in major international competitions and it appeared as if the sport was dying a natural death in the country with no talents showing signs of grabbing the eyeballs at big-ticket events. But if the past few years are anything to go by, there is little doubt that Indian swimming is slowly and steadily climbing up the ladder. Virdhawal Khade first emerged as the next best swimming hope of India – the Bangalore-based swimmer qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics (became the youngest Indian to qualify for the Olympics) – it just showed that Indians are serious about making their present felt at the pool.
The bare cupboard of medals for the Indian swimming over the years can be best exemplified by the fact Virdhawal’s bronze winning feat in the 50m butterfly event at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games was the country’s first swimming medal in Asia Games in twenty four years. We all fondly remember Khazan Singh, who towered over the Indian swimming circuit in the eighties – the man who bagged a coveted silver medal at the 1986 Seoul Asian Games in the 200m butterfly event. It has been a strange coincidence that India’s medals in swimming have come in Asian Games with a long gap in between. Khazan’s silver in Seoul believe it or not was India’s first Asian Games medal in thirty five years – the first since illustrious Sachin Nag won our first Asiad swimming gold in the inaugural edition at New Delhi in 1951. India had won six medals in the 1951 Asiad – one gold, one silver and four bronze medals.
Indian swimmers after that have found it difficult to crack the Asiad nut – in fact, the 1951 Asiad was the event where India won more than one medal – a fair indication of the trashy performance of our swimmers at this multi-sport event. Taking all this into perspective, one feels that Sandeep Sejwal’s bronze in the 50m breast stroke event at Incheon gives us an impression that the Indian swimmers ‘belong’ to the top league and not border on mediocrity. Sandeep just became the ninth swimmer to bag an Asiad medal.
Sandeep, a student of Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College took many by surprise at Incheon. He topped his heats by clocking 28.25s before snaring the third spot in the final race with a timing of 28.26. The Bangalore-based swimmer is coached by vastly experienced Nihar Ameen, who incidentally also mentors Virdhawal. Another sweet coincidence is that GoSports Foundation supports both Virdhawal and Sandeep.
The achievement of Sandeep is all the more remarkable given that he had to endure disappointments. He was dropped from the Indian team for the 2012 London Olympics despite winning his qualification quota. The setback only made him stronger as he swam to glory in Incheon.
The Swimming Federation of India (SFI) is putting more focus on shorter distance events as the Indians are ideally suited for it. There is a general feeling that our swimmers don’t have the endurance to match the world’s best in long distance events.
The emergence of talents like Virdhawal and Sandeep gives Indian swimming a ray of hope for the future, but the powers-that-be must do more to improve swimming infrastructure in the country. Save for Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium, no swimming pool across the country can boasts of latest equipment and technology. The talent pool for swimming isn’t vast unlike most other sports. One hopes India produces more Sandeeps and Virdhawals in the future and the government agencies do more to tap new talents across the country. For a country, that have won just two medals since the 1951 Asiad till the 2010 Asiad, clearly the back-to-back Asiad medals will stand Indian swimming in good stead for the future.
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