The Indian swimming contingent, boasting of two former medal winners in Virdhawal Khade (2010) and Sandeep Sejwal (2014), left for Indonesia for the Asian Games on Wednesday.
In an email interview just before the team's departure, Virdhawal Khade expressed confidence that the swimmers would return with at least two medals fielding its best-ever team in the quadrennial spectacle.
"Sandeep and I have done it before and we know what it takes to [win] medal at big events. Hopefully, we will add to the medal tally," Khade, the 2010 bronze medallist, said.
"We have a good young team of very talented swimmers. Sandeep, Sajan (Prakash) and I are quite close to the medal bracket. I feel we can, realistically, expect at least two medals from the swimming team," he added.
The confidence stems from the rich haul the trio — also brand ambassadors of Speedo — collected during Singapore meet in June where Khade managed to sneak past Olympic champion Joseph Schooling to grab a gold. "I think I am as prepared as I can be for the Asian Games. I have been fortunate to be able to train at the Padukone Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence, here, in Bangalore. The facilities, here, have helped me prepare myself and improve consistently since January of this year," Khade said.
Sajan Prakash, the best performing Indian at the Commonwealth Games, is also confident of winning a medal. "I have a good chance to win a medal in the 200m butterfly. I know have worked hard enough in the pool and outside," he said.
'Matured and strong'
Sajan has been funded by the Sports Ministry under TOPS for the last eight months and that has helped him prepare better for the Asian Games. "Since I swim 200m butterfly, which is known for one of the toughest events in swimming, I have tried racing in various conditions in the last season. We have also raced with some of the fastest swimmers in the world in the last six months. This has helped me feel more matured and strong to go race all out at the Asian games," he said.
The 26-year-old Khade, however, has had to take the tougher route. Away from action for more than three years due to a troublesome knee, he is yet to figure in the TOPS list and has had to fend for himself.
"Things have been difficult for me over the past year. Speedo has made things much easier for me when it comes to swimming gear. I would have liked more help from the government, but it hasn't been bad. I hope they include me in the TOPS scheme, soon, so I can focus more on the sport," he said.
'One of the strongest teams'
For that to happen, the performance at the Asian Games is crucial and his fellow swimmer Sajan believes that the contingent can make it count.
"This is one of the strongest team I have trained with; some are really fast and some are gearing for future to be very strong. We can expect medals from quite a few this time. I believe Virdhawal and Sandeep are a great motivation to the team and are going to repeat their best," he said.
"The youngsters like Srihari Nataraj and Advait Page look very strong and I strongly believe they are going to create history for India. I see this team as very positive and waiting to deliver some surprising performance at the Games," he signed off.
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