Setting new standards

Rehan Poncha of Karnataka celebrates after winning the gold in the 50m backstroke.-AP

Rehan Poncha was the pick of the swimmers, winning nine gold, three silver and three bronze medals. He participated in 15 events and finished in the medal bracket in all of them. The Karnataka swimmer also accounted for five Games records. Such was his domination. S. Sabanayakan reports.

The ultra-modern Dr. Zakir Hussian Aquatics Complex was the hub of frenetic activity for a week as one of the most popular sporting events in the 33rd National Games produced exhilarating action. Watched by spectators in excess of 2000 each day, some of the country's best swimmers displayed their prowess in a manner that promised a bright future for the sport in the country.

Karnataka, the cradle of Indian swimming, as expected won the maximum number of medals — 19 golds, 13 silvers and 15 bronzes.

The toast of the Karnataka contingent was Rehan Poncha, who won nine gold medals, six of them in individual events, apart from the three silvers and as many bronzes.

The bespectacled, 20-year-old swimmer participated in 15 events and finished in the medal bracket in all of them. He also accounted for five Games records. Such was his domination.

Maharashtra, which finished second in the overall standings with 10 gold, 10 silver and nine bronze medals, had one of the most promising swimmers in Veerdhaval Khade.

Just 15 years of age, the Kolhapur-born freestyle specialist accounted for six of his team's total gold medal haul.

Khade, who lives and trains in Bangalore, opened the swimming competition with a National best time of 1:54.18s in the 200m freestyle.

A winner of six international medals for India, Khade emerged the fastest in 50m freestyle as he became the second Indian, after Sebastian Xavier, to go under 24 seconds. He clocked 24.18s in the heats and 23.92s in the final to upstage Xavier's meet record of 24.27s. Khade also rewrote five Games marks.

Following Khade's outstanding showing, Xavier responded: "He has the potential to be one of the best in the history of Indian swimming.''

Shikha Tandon displays the gold medal she won in the 50m freestyle. She claimed six golds in all.-RITU RAJ KONWAR

Rohit R. Havaldar was the second swimmer to come up with a National best time. The 17-year-old Karnataka lad clocked 8:35.29s in the gruelling, newly introduced 800m freestyle in the National Games to better Mandar A. Divase's mark of 8:36.69, set at the 2005 Nationals in Thrissur.

Apart from these performances, there were many thrilling contests and 22 record-breaking feats, including one in diving.

Dead heats are rare in any competition, but there was one on the third day involving Rohit Havaldar and Rehan Poncha in the 200m backstroke. The two Karnataka swimmers fought it out in a grand manner to clock 2: 11.65s.

Delhi's Richa Mishra, 23, took it upon herself to fight the might of Karnataka and Maharashtra. A winner of seven individual gold medals at the last National Games in Hyderabad, Richa went one better this time, picking up eight individual golds, two of them in record time. She also won three silvers and a bronze to boost Delhi's medals haul to 10-4-7.

"Whatever I do in life I do with a lot of passion,'' pointed out Richa, an inspector with the Central Reserve Police Force.

Richa was the lone woman swimmer to set a National best time. In the newly introduced 1500m freestyle in the National Games, she clocked 18:14.97s, which eclipsed the mark of 18:30.54s set by her older sister, Charu Mishra, last year in the Bangalore Nationals.

Poncha topped the chart with 15 medals (9-3-3), followed by Richa (8-3-1), Khade (6-2-1) and Shikha Tandon of Karnataka (6-1-1).

When one talks of swimming in Karnataka, the contributions of two coaches, Pradeep Kumar of Basavanagudi Aquatic Centre and Nihar Ameen of K. C. Reddy Swim Centre, deserve mention.

The healthy rivalry between the two centres has lifted the standard of swimming in Karnataka to such heights that it will not be easy for States like Bengal and Tamil Nadu to match it.

Pradeep, who is also the National coach, was happy with the progress made by most of his wards who represented India.

With India set to host the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune in October, besides participating in the South Asian swimming in Pakistan and Asian age group swimming in Indonesia in August, the Swimming Federation of India is planning to rope in a foreign coach.

"Our preparation for the Commonwealth Games in 2010 in Delhi will begin in right earnest,'' said the SFI secretary, Virendra Nanavati.

Posting national best

200m freestyle: Veerdhaval Khade - 1:54.18s (old: 1:54.44 by Khade, 2006 Asian Games).-R. RAGU

800m freestyle: Rohit Havaldar - 8:35.29s (old: 8:36.69 by Mandar Divase, 2006).-RITU RAJ KIONWAR

1500m freestyle: Richa Mishra - 18:14.97 (old: 18:30.54 by Charu Mishra, 2006).-RITU RAJ KIONWAR

Record breakers

Men: 50m freestyle: Veerdhaval Khade — 24.18s (heats) & 23.92s (final). (Old: 24.27s by Sebastian Xavier, 1997); 100m freestyle: Veerdhaval Khade — 52.80s (old: 53.94s by Sebastian Xavier, 1997); 200m freestyle: Veerdhaval Khade — 1:54.14s (old: 1:58.68s by Abhijith J, 1997); 400m freestyle: Veerdhaval Khade — 4:07.17s (old: 4:13.28s by Poncha, 2002); 800m freestyle: Rohit Havaldar — 8:35.29s (new event) (Old National mark: 8:36.69, Mandar A. Divase, 2005); 1500m freestyle: Rohit Havaldar — 16:24.54s (old: 16:39.59s by Mandar Divase, 2002); 50m backstroke: Rehan Poncha — 28.58s (old: 28.61 by T. K. Senthil Kumar, 2002); 100m backstroke: Rehan Poncha — 1:00.68s (old: 1:01.54s by Senthil Kumar, 2002); 200m backstroke: Rohit Havaldar & Rehan Poncha — 2:11.65s (old: 2:12.56 by Bhanu Sachdeva, 1994); 200m ind. medley: Rehan Poncha — 2:11.78s (old: 2:11.79s by Abhijith J, 1997); 400m ind. Medley: Rehan Poncha — 4:44.32s (old: 4:47.94s by Abhijith J, 1997); 4x100m freestyle relay: Karnataka (Aniketh D'Souza, Rehan Poncha, Sandeep N.A., Rohit Havaldar) — 3:39.43s (old: 3:41.99s by Kerala, 1997); 4x200m freestyle relay: Karnataka (Abhishek, Srinand Srinivas, Havaldar, Poncha) — 8:09.80s (old: 8:11.18s by AP, 2002); 4x100m medley relay: Karnataka (Sandeep, Poncha, D'Souza, Abhishek V) — 4:05.99s (old: 4:07.81s by Kerala, 1997).

Women: 50m freestyle: Shikha Tandon — 27.34s (old: 27.45 by Shikha, 2002); 800m freestyle: Surbhi Tipre — 9:25.30s (old: 9:35.06s by Richa, 2002); 1500m freestyle: Richa Mishra — 18:14.97s (new event) (Old National mark: 18:30.54, Charu Mishra, 2006); 50m backstroke: Shikha Tandon — 31.86s (old: 32.07s by Shikha, 2002); 200m backstroke: Richa Mishra — 2:29.34s (old: 2:30.32s by Shikha Tandon, 2002); 50m butterfly: Lekha Kamath — 29.65s (old: 30.07 by Richa, 2002).

Diving: Women: Hrutika Shriram — 183.35 points (old: 177.50 points by Shruti Shrivastava, 1999).