A cut above the rest

KHALYAN N. ASHOK

Richa Misra set one National and three meet records.-K. GOPINATHAN

NOT many swimmers inspire as much awe as Richa Misra. Even before she took the plunge for her race, especially the butterfly events, the other contenders seemed resigned to the outcome. It was Richa first and everyone next. What sets this Delhite apart from the rest, is her attitude. "I believe in myself, if I don't who would," she asks.

The 19-year-old Richa Misra, representing Police, once again returned to centre stage at the Kolkata Nationals. Though she lost the race to Shikha Tandon for the individual honours, by a whisker, nevertheless, she went home with head held high with one National record (100m butterfly) and three meet records (50, 200 butterfly and 400m individual medley). "Personally, I am not really after winning a medal or individual championship, for me breaking records is the most important thing in a meet. I got a big kick out of breaking Bula's 100 here. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than breaking a record, the older the better", says Richa.

Richa had an early start in swimming when she was about five years. Her aunt Manita Misra, was a swimmer of repute and her participation in fun meets, opened the doors to big time aquatics. Her parents, impressed by her ability, seriously began training her.

Richa's first junior Nationals was in 1994 and the senior Nationals in 1997. The experience was nothing much to crow about, with fourth or fifth positions in most of the races, but from the next season onwards, the strong Delhi girl began her ascent on the National scene. She was the swimmer of the meet in 2000 Nationals and she followed it up with a stunning performance in 2002 National Games at Hyderabad and where she was adjudged as the `Best Sportswoman' of the Games. "It was a great honour and there was a huge crowd support. I enjoyed every moment of it, because National Games are India's Olympics", adds Richa Misra. She has been doing the butterfly stroke, ever since she began swimming. "It goes a long way and I enjoy this stroke and I guess my build is just right for butterfly," says Richa.

"I have had my share of ups and downs in my career, but the turning point, I think was my recent stint in Hungary with coach, Otto Kovacs. It really helped me stroke-wise and improved endurance and motivational levels," feels Richa Misra.

At the World Championship in Barcelona in July, she clocked 2:19.58 to sink Bula's long standing National best of 2:19.60 and later in the Kolkata Nationals, Bula's 100, also took a bashing from Richa, who clocked 1:04. "I could have swam under 1:04, but I didn't have much tapering as I came straight from Hungary and spent a fortnight at Delhi, before coming over here", observes Richa.

Qualifying for the Olympics, remains her goal. "For 200m butterfly, it is around 2:17 and I am close to it and I hope to do it in the Afro-Asian Games, with some good training at the National Camp in Bangalore. If I get a medal and the qualifying time, it would be just great and I keep my fingers crossed", says Richa.

Richa felt that the training stint in Hungary did her a world of good. "When I got the SAI scholarship, I opted for Hungary because, Kovacs trained us here for a few months last year and he is very familiar with my schedule. What impressed me out there was, no one bunks sessions and each one does what the coach has cut out and the load was heavy with six hours of morning stint, followed by another five hours later in the afternoon. He worked on my arm action, kicks and I have made marked improvement", acknowledges Richa.

Training with her idol, the legendary Khazan Singh Tokas looks a distinct possibility now. "If Khazan sir, trains me, I need not go anywhere. Europe or Australia, he is the best and the only thing that came in the way was his busy professional schedule. But recently, when I was feeling down, he asked whether I would be interested if he helps me out. I said yes, and we are working out the modalities", says Richa.

Does she fear any rival? "I don't have rivals, only friends. If Shikha does better in freestyle, I only think I should improve like her in butterfly. I only see positive things in other competitors", added Richa.

Though there have been few instances of drug abuse in the sport, the Indian aquatics has stayed free from the shadow of drug menace. Richa, for one avers that she is dead against it. "I want to win on my sheer merit and I want my rival also to do the same and at international meets you are subjected to such intense scrutiny, and only a fool will risk his/her career with use of drugs for a short term gain", concluded Richa.