‘I AM A SPRINTER, NOT ONE FOR ENDURANCE EVENTS’

A GOOD HAUL. Sharath Gayakwad poses with the medals he won at the Asian Para Games in Incheon.-V. SREENIVASA MURTHY.

“I began winning at an early age, and that was my motivation to improve further. Even now, I am learning,” says Sharath Gayakwad, who won six medals at the Asian Para Games in Incheon, Korea, recently. By AVINASH NAIR.

He was born with a dysfunctional, short left arm, but that hardly seems to be a deterrent for Sharath Gayakwad. In six years of international swimming, he has reaped rich rewards. His crowning moment came at the Asian Games in Incheon recently, where he won six medals, including one in the relay.

“It was a heady week in Incheon, and though in most events I did not touch even my previous best I did manage to finish on the podium. I know what needs to be done and Rio (2016 Olympics) could be the stage. I’m hoping for that to be my Olympics,” says the 23-year-old from Bangalore, who has impressed everyone with his determination and desire to make it big.

After two para-Asian Games (Incheon 2014 and Guangzhou 2010), two para-Commonwealth Games (New Delhi 2010 and Glasgow 2014), two IPC World Championships (2010 Eindhoven and 2013 Montreal) and the London Paralympics (2012), Sharath is not only richer for the experience but a lot wiser too.

“With the help of my coach John Christopher, I have infused a lot from what I had learnt during competitions into my daily drills. That should stand me in good stead,” says the lanky swimmer, who has 39 international medals (four gold, 14 silver and 21 bronze) to show.

Sharath spoke to Sportstar on his return from Incheon.

Excerpts: Question: How did it all begin?

Answer: This (dysfunctional, short left arm) was something I was born with, but that did not deter me, as I was a natural, doing well in everything that I took part in, be it athletics or any other sport. But when I was in Standard IV (Little Flower Public School), it was mandatory for everyone to participate in swimming. And that was the beginning.

And your early coaching?

It was Mr. Raju, our ‘Learn to Swim’ instructor at the PM Swimming Centre in Jayanagar (Bangalore), who gave me my early lessons before I switched to coach Muthuswamy. However, for the past 10-plus years, it has been John Christopher sir.

SHARATH GAYAKWAD ... impressing everyone with his determination to make it big.-G.P. SAMPTH KUMAR

Any support from home?

My parents were very supportive, but it was my mother who encouraged me to take up the sport seriously. She would push me hard. My father used to drop me to the venue for training, while my elder sister (now married) along with my mother would ensure that I ate well; they provided me with a viable atmosphere.

What about your early success?

I began winning at an early age and that was my motivation to improve further. And with inputs from coach Christopher, my overall skills and performances began to gather momentum. Even now, I am learning. I try to emulate the Chinese and Koreans and try it out in practice.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Well, my pet event is the breaststroke although I have done well in other strokes too. Backstroke is my weak point, though I did manage to win a bronze in the 100m backstroke event as well. I am a sprinter and not one for endurance events.

How do you balance academics with your chosen sport?

I was never good in academics — I am yet to clear my graduation (Psychology and Literature from SBM Jain College). But in school and pre-university I did enough to score average marks. At times I do regret, but then swimming took precedence. I will complete my graduation.

Who are your idols?

As a swimmer, of course, Ian Thorpe. Otherwise, it’s Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. In fact, since February this year, with Dravid coming on board as a mentor at the GoSports Foundation, the whole scene has changed so much. An iconic figure like Dravid talking to us and motivating us with his fluid words and anecdotes has inspired many others and me to excel.

You are now coaching too?

I have B licence in coaching and have about 18 boys and seven girls training under me at the Jayanagar Centre. Yes, my arm aches terribly of late and I am in pain during and after long camps. I’m concentrating on coaching to stay focused in swimming. I would take it up seriously after my active swimming days.