Karnataka rules the roost

Champion swimmers... Rehan Poncha and Richa Mishra.-PICS: S. MAHINSHA

The state has proved that it is streets ahead of others when it comes to unearthing talent and nurturing them, writes M. R. Praveen Chandran.

If the number of records set during a National Championship is a yardstick for assessing the progression of a sport in the country, then Indian swimming is certainly in a healthy state. Twenty-six records, including six National marks, were set in the 63rd National Aquatic Championships in Thiruvananthapuram recently.

The best of the country’s swimmers had had enough international exposure, with a few of them taking part in at least three international events before competing in the National meet. This, in a way, was responsible for the high returns at the Nationals.

The National coach, S. Pradeep Kumar, reckons that the Indian swimmers have achieved the Asian standard in a few events, and a medal in the Asian Games is quite possible. “We have the talent and the desire, but they have to be backed by scientific training and exposure,” he said.

As far as the competition in the Nationals was concerned, the Karnataka juggernaut rolled on imperiously as the state took the overall title by winning the maximum number of gold medals. Karnataka is streets ahead of other states in terms of unearthing talent and nurturing them. The two clubs in Bangalore, the Basavangudi Aquatic Club and the K. C. Reddy Swim Club, have produced a number of National champions in the last two decades. Almost all record holders, with the exception of Richa Mishra and Sandeep Sejwal, train at these two Bangalore clubs. The professionalism and dedication of coaches Pradeep Kumar and Nihar Amin has to be appreciated.

With Virdhawal Khade restricting himself to just two events, the focus was on Rehan Poncha in the men’s section. And he did not disappoint. Rehan came up with a commendable performance, winning eight gold medals.

Lack of competition did not diminish the appetite of this 23-year-old swimmer who set new bench marks in the meet. Rehan set five records, one of which was a National mark, and was adjudged the Best Swimmer of the meet. The Bangalore University student, who is gunning for a medal in the Asian Games, was happy with his overall showing, but was a tad disappointed with his effort in the 200m backstroke.

“I was expecting to do 2:05 here, otherwise I am pretty happy with my overall performance. It has been a fantastic year for me. I came up with the three best Indian performances in the FINA World Championships in Rome and also did well in Japan. Breaking five National records was definitely what I had in mind before this meet,” Rehan said.

Rehan’s coach Pradeep Kumar said the swimmer will be at the peak of his prowess in the next two years and is definitely a big medal prospect for the Asian Games.

Mandar A. Divase, Rehan’s mate at the Basavangudi Aquatic Club, proved that he is a tough nut to crack when it comes to long distance swimming. The Kohlapur-born swimmer set a National record in the 1500m freestyle besides erasing meet records in the 800m and 400m freestyle.

The young Aaron D’Souza is the future of Indian swimming. The 17-year-old completed a hat-trick of wins in the men’s 200m freestyle, capping it with a meet record. Aaron also won the 100m freestyle in record time.

Arhatha Magavi... the one to watch out for in future.-

Sandeep Sejwal of Delhi was the lone swimmer who commanded respect from the Karnataka camp. He was in a different league in breast-stroke events and set three meet records.

Tamil Nadu’s M. B. Balakrishnan scorched the pool while setting a National record in the 50m backstroke. The third year engineering student is a bright prospect.

Tall, muscular and with looks that would evoke interest among Bollywood directors, Virdhawal Khade made a cameo appearance in the 50m freestyle and simply swept away the field with his sheer class. The 18-year-old broke Sebastian Xavier’s record with minimum fuss and set another meet record in the 50m butterfly. Khade once again underlined the fact that the future of Indian swimming rests on his broad shoulders.

Only eight records were set in the women’s section. Richa Mishra, who has been the most dominant female swimmer since 2002, won five gold medals with three records to boot. She was chosen the best female swimmer of the meet. The Delhi girl, whose training has suffered following the closure of the Talkatora swimming pools, tasted a rare defeat, her first in two years, at the hands of the young Arhatha Magavi in the 100m butterfly. Richa was unstoppable in other events.

The 100m butterfly was the event that announced the future of Indian swimming. Arhatha, at 15 an awesome talent, got off to a terrific start to establish a National record, clocking 1:03.24. She was quite elated on beating Richa. “I was nervous before the start of the final. I wanted to get a good start which I did and gave my best in the race. I am so excited on beating Richa,” she said.

Arhatha also set a meet record in the 200m butterfly to underline her growing stature. According to Pradeep Kumar, Arhatha was the find of the meet, a swimmer to watch out for in future.

C. Shubha was another swimmer from Karnataka to dazzle. She broke the National record in the 50m butterfly.

The women’s competition was effectively between two states, Karnataka and Maharashtra. They took the first two positions in the points tally.

The diving competitions were dominated by Railways, which won five gold medals and also the overall team title.

In water polo, there was something for the host to cheer as both its men’s and women’s teams entered the final. However, Railways ended Kerala’s hopes in the men’s final, winning a close match 9-7. Maharashtra edged out Kerala 7-6 to bag the women’s title.

FOR THE RECORD NATIONAL RECORDS

Men — 50m backstroke: M. B. Balakrishnan (Tamil Nadu) 27.56s. 1500m freestyle: Mandar Divase (Police) 1:06.64. 200m individual medley: Rehan Poncha (Karnataka) 2:05.69.

Women — 100m butterfly: Arhatha Magavi (Karnataka) 1:03.24. 50m butterfly: C. Shubha (Karnataka) 29.01s. 4x100m medley relay: Karnataka 4:39.62.

MEET RECORDS

Men — 50m freestyle: Virdhawal Khade (Maharashtra) 22.71s. 100m freestyle: Aaron D’Souza (Karnataka) 51.43s. 200m freestyle: 1. Aaron D’Souza (Karnataka) 1:53.36. 400m freestyle: Mandar A. Divase 4:02.20. 800m freestyle: Mandar A. Divase 8:23.08. 200m backstroke: Rehan Poncha 2:07.52. 50m breaststroke: Sandeep Sejwal (Delhi) 29.37s. 100m breaststroke: Sandeep Sejwal 1:04.26. 200m breaststroke: Sandeep Sejwal 2:18.85. 50m butterfly: Virdhawal Khade (Maharashtra) 24.36s. 100m butterfly: Rehan Poncha 55.17s. 200m butterfly: Rehan Poncha 2:01.28. 400m individual medley: Rehan Poncha 4:30.13. 4x100m medley relay: Karnataka 4:00.55. 4x100m freestyle relay: Karnataka 3:37.63.

Women — 400m freestyle: Richa Mishra (Police) 4:28.97. 200m individual medley: Richa Mishra 2:25.00. 400m individual medley: Richa Mishra 5:02.96. 200m butterfly: Arhatha Magavi (Karnataka) 2:19.59. 4x100m freestyle relay: Karnataka 4:08.63.

OVERALL CHAMPIONSHIP

Karnataka (318 points), 2. Maharashtra (176), 3. Police (124).

TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP

Men: 1. Karnataka (161 points), 2. Railways (89), 3. Police (85).

Women: 1. Karnataka (157), 2. Maharashtra (139), 3. Tamil Nadu (62).

INDIVIDUAL CHAMPIONS Men: Rehan Poncha (Karnataka) 35 points. Women: Richa Mishra (Police) 33 points. WATER POLO

Men’s final: Railways bt Kerala 9-7. Third place: Services bt Maharashtra 7-5.

Women’s final: Maharashtra bt Kerala 7-5. Third place: Police bt Karnataka 7-5.