Khade leads the charge

Virdhawal Khade with the medals he won in Tokyo. He was the best of Indian swimmers in the AAG meet.-K. GOPINATHAN

The Asian Age Group competition held in Tokyo was a memorable one for India. Its swimmers came home with a rich haul of eight gold, eight silver and eight bronze medals. Kalyan Ashok reports.

The Asian Age Group Aquatic Championship has always been a happy hunting ground for Indian swimmers, and the 2009 edition of the meet, held in Tokyo (August 10 to 14), was no different. The Indians returned home with a rich haul of 24 medals — eight gold, eight silver and eight bronze. However, what made the Tokyo event a memorable one for the Indian contingent was the number of meet and National records set by its swimmers.

Virdhawal Khade was the best of the Indian swimmers, smashing four meet records and notching up three National best timings. He had a haul of seven medals — four gold, two silver and one bronze.

Khade’s gold medals came in the 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle and 100m butterfly, all with meet records.

He bagged silver medals in the 50m freestyle and a relay event, while his only bronze medal came from another relay event.

Khade made up for a rather disappointing showing in the FINA World Championships in Rome, where he swam with a throat infection, by establishing three National records at the Tokyo meet.

In the 50m freestyle he clocked 22.55s, while in the 50m butterfly he timed 24.17s. Khade set his third National mark in the 100m butterfly, clocking 52.77s.

Speaking of his performance in the Asian Age Group Championship, Khade said: “I am pleased with my performance in butterfly, but I could have done better in freestyle, especially in the 200m race. I consider the Asian Age Group as a ‘feel good’ meet where you compete with those who are on a par with you and win a few medals and do good timings. The victory margin was often close and I feel I am getting faster. I expect to do much better in future.”

According to Khade, he is very much focussed on his campaign for the Commonwealth Games in 2010. “I should be able to cut at least another second and be in the medal bracket in the 50m freestyle and 50m and 100m butterfly,” he said.

The Indian swimming sensation has now taken a break from training in order to write his Standard XII Board Examination at his home town, Kohlapur (Maharashtra).

Khade’s team-mate Sandeep Sejwal was not far behind as he improved upon his own National marks in the 50m (27.84s), 100m (1: 00.97s) and 200m (2:12.02) breast-stroke events. He won three medals — two silver and a bronze.

Coach Nihar Ameen rated Sejwal’s performance as being on a par with or even better than Khade’s. “He was up against some top Kazakh swimmers who were record holders and at least five or six years older to him. The way he has improved upon his timings, especially in the 100m breast-stroke is amazing. It is almost on a par with the European Championship’s best performance,” he said.

The other notable performances for India came from Richa Misra, Rehan Poncha, Aaaron D’Souza and A. P. Gagan.

Sandeep Sejwal, who won two silvers and a bronze medal.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Richa set National marks in the 800m freestyle (9:11.68s), 1500m freestyle (17:33.35s) and 200m backstroke (2:26.44s). She won a gold, a silver and three bronze medals.

Rehan Poncha won only a silver medal in the 200m butterfly, but set National records in three events — 200m butterfly (2:00.70s), 400m freestyle (4:01.83s) and 400m individual medley (4:029.89s).

Gagan, another Bangalore lad, won gold medals in the 800m and 1500m freestyle, the last one with a National best timing of 16:10.90s.

Aaron D’Souza bagged silver medals in the 100m freestyle, and 400m freestyle in Group ‘B’ (15 to 17 years). India also won bronze medals in the men’s and women’s waterpolo. Hruthika Shriram excelled in diving, winning a silver medal on the high board and a bronze in the three-metre spring board.

S. Pradeep Kumar, the Chief National Coach, was pleased with the performance of the Indian swimmers. “I rate this AAG as one of our best meets.

“Not just in terms of the medals won, but also for the sheer quality and times clocked by the swimmers. I was impressed with the performances of all our medal winners.

“We have quite a few major meets before the end of the season, including the Asian Championships in Busan, and that’s far tougher challenge than the AAG. The performance in Tokyo should motivate our swimmers in a big way,” he said.