Srihari Nataraj makes a big splash

The 17-year-old swimmer shattered three national records at the Jakarta Asian Games and also made the final in two.

Srihari Nataraj in action during the finals of men's 200 metre backstroke event at the 18th Asian Games.   -  PTI

He has many cricketers among his relatives, one has even played for India ‘A’ and another in the Ranji Trophy, and there was some pressure on young Srihari Nataraj to take up cricket.

But Srihari took up swimming soon after he learned to walk and though he tried basketball, football and a lot of other sports, but it was swimming that became his calling.

The 17-year-old backstroke swimmer shattered three national records here in Jakarta and made the final in two. He topped the show nicely by breaking the 200m men’s backstroke national record twice on Thursday, first in morning heats and later in the final this evening bringing it down to 2:02.83s (OR 2:03.89s) even as he finished sixth.

He is clearly one of the most talented swimmers to emerge in the country and the good thing is, he is very young too.

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Swimming is a sport where India is way behind the world’s best. And for Srihari, going to the majors like the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games offers him a chance to taste the best of facilities.

But sometimes things can get a bit complicated.

“Every time I’m swimming in India, I’m more focused about my legs slipping and I change my hold but the problem is, once I come to big meets, we have the backstroke ledge. It helps, offers good grip but I’m not used to it,” Srihari told Sportstar on Thursday, minutes after breaking the 200m national record.

“It takes a few days to adjust to it. Like in the recent Commonwealth the time I got used to it, the 50m was over.”

With coach A.C. Jayarajan guiding him in Bengaluru, Srihari is now working on a lot of things, including improving his underwater swimming, kick and speed.

After the Asian Games, his next goal is the Youth Olympics in Argentina in October.

“I think I have a good chance of winning a medal there in the 100 and 200m backstroke,” said Srihari.

“And my big goal is to do well in the 2020 and 2024 Olympics.”


Meanwhile Virdhawal Khade, who made it to the 50m butterfly final – an event where he won a bronze in 2010 – finished eighth in 24.48s. He had been faster in the morning heats and had broken his own national record (24.09s, old, own 24.17).