VG Baskar is someone who is petrified of water. Ironically, he married Chethana Konethota, a third-generation state-level swimmer, continuing in the footsteps of her mother and grandfather. The newly-wed couple attempted snorkelling during their honeymoon, where Baskar fainted.
Baskar’s fear of water became an added motivation for Chethana to teach her kid to swim at the age of two.
Twenty years later, her daughter, Suvana Baskar, broke the 50m backstroke National Record (NR) at the National Swimming Championships held in Hyderabad in July 2023.
The 20-year-old has been swimming competitively since the age of six, winning her first state medal at the age of nine and hasn’t looked back since.
“In the early 1980s, my grandmother held the Karnataka state record in backstroke. My mother started as a backstroker and shifted to breaststroke. So, in terms of support from family, I’ve always had it,” Suvana said.
“My grandmother and mother know what buttons to push and what not to push, because sometimes they do understand that the pressure for me is very different than what they experienced.”
The Karnataka swimming prodigy won the 50m backstroke at the nationals, with a time of 29.63, beating the record by a 0.16-second margin.
“I knew I was going to win the race,” Suvana said. “I was very confident about pulling it off, but you know, to still get my first senior national record, in an event that no one expected me to win was special.”
Suvana’s win meant that existing NR holder and favourite Maana Patel could only manage a silver with a time of 29.71.
“Honestly, in my head, the planning was never to go for the record, it was to go for the gold,” she said. “I swam a 29.8 last year itself. I was looking to show my best time and I was looking to get the gold so the record was just like a bonus for me.”
Despite the success achieved during the Nationals, the Dream Foundation athlete asserts that it was far from her best performance. A car accident in the United States, in April, put her out of action for a while, derailing her preparations.
“I was out for a while (after the accident) and had a neck injury during the meet. So, under the circumstances, it was a good meet, but I know it’s not as good as I will be in the future,” Suvana said.
“I would say, in March this year, I was in about 40 per cent better shape than I am in now. If these nationals were in March, I would have gotten all the records to be very frank.”
The 29.63 timing was enough to pip the NR but wasn’t within the cut-off mark for Asian Games qualification. Suvana though, isn’t fazed about missing out on the event.
“I didn’t meet the qualifying time, the cut was 29.0. The difference of 0.6 is nothing but also a lot at the same time for a swimmer,” she said. “But under the circumstances, there’s no way I would have done better.”
“There are dreams and all of that, but a huge part of me believes that missing these Asian games is a blessing in disguise because it gives me one year to actually focus on training and make it to Paris.”
Suvana has set her sights on the next Asian Games in four years. “The way I’m looking at it, in four years, I can actually be good enough to fight for a medal rather than fight just to participate,” she said.
In her young but impressive career, Suvana has won gold medals at the Malaysian and Uzbekistan Open and is also an Asian age group medallist.
“To date, I think the Malaysian Open is the best competition I’ve ever had in my career. There was something about that place. I’ve never felt so good in the water before,” she said.
“The day I feel better than Malaysia in the water, that’s the day I know that I’m there where I want to be.”
With her eyes firmly set on Paris 2024, Suvana is travelling back to college in the US where she will be participating in college swimming events and long course competitions.
“College is all about unity and team spirit. As a team, we really get behind each other, we support each other and that’s what makes the sport fun,” she said.
“That’s why I give complete credit to college swimming. More than performance, I’ve realized I’ve never loved swimming as much as I do now.”
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