Khade confident of a comeback

After suffering an ACL surgery in 2017, Asian Games medallist and ace swimmer Virdhawal Khade looks to make a comeback at the upcoming 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Virdhawal Khade was the youngest Indian swimmer to qualify for the Olympics back in 2008 when he was 16 and went on to clinch a bronze medal (50m freestyle) two years later at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.   -  Special Arrangement

Just over a year ago, Virdhawal Khade's swimming career was at a crossroads. On the back of having missed four straight high-profile events – the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and the 2014 Commonwealth and Asian Games – owing to a combination of administrative bungling and his own job as a Tehsildar, Khade's knee had snapped, necessitating an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) surgery.

The youngest Indian swimmer to qualify for the Olympics back in 2008 when he was 16 and a bronze medallist (50m freestyle) two years later at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, Khade looked set to be reduced to mere nostalgia.

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But ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, the 26-year-old seems to have resurrected his career. Following an encouraging performance at the Senior Nationals last October, where he won both the 50m freestyle and butterfly races, Khade last week swam his season best timing of 23.02s to win the 50m freestyle gold at the Singapore National Age Group Championships.

“The past five years were quite forgettable,” Khade told Sportstar. “The job affected me mentally. I got very relaxed and I was earning. It was the easy way out. But then I felt something was missing. Swimmers I could do better than were representing India and weren't exactly doing as good as they should. So I thought I would take matters into my own hands.”

For Khade, the biggest challenge now is to make his body follow his mind. “I am five years older and much stronger but I take longer to recover. I can't train too much. I do training for only 50m and 100m. But in 50m, everything is muscle memory. You just need to fine tune a few things. It's a bit like the 100m dash in athletics.”

Of late, Khade has been training at the Padukone – Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence here under his long-time coach Nihar Ameen. The Centre boasts of a state-of-the-art pool built by Myrtha, the official pool designers for the Olympics, incorporating the latest advances in starting blocks, lane-markers et al.

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“Most pools in India have no starting block or it's just concrete,” Khade explained “There is no explosive start you can get. To put it into numbers, my best time in 50m freestyle is 22.5s. At 15m, I am 5.0s but the best in the world are 4.5s and their best times will be around 21.8s. So that half a second gap right at the beginning...we have always known that but we could never bridge it.”

The infrastructure may have come a little late for him, but self-belief isn't something Khade is short on. “An Asian Games medal is a realistic target. I think I am at 85% of my level and I will improve. The long-term goal is to be in the final of Olympics. Not even a medal.. We [India] have never even been in the semifinals. A final will be great. Medal would be fantastic!”

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