The 10th Asian Age Group Swimming Championships, which gets underway at the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence, presents the best opportunity for Indian swimmers to aim for the A-cut for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The nine-day competition, considered as the largest aquatic championships in Asia, will see over 1000 participants taking part in four disciplines namely swimming, diving, water polo and artistic swimming.
The 44-member India swim team will be led by ace swimmer Sajan Prakash taking part in the 100m, 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley while his compatriot Virdhawal Khade will be keeping in mind the 'A' cut-off of 22.01 seconds in the 50m freestyle event. He will also be taking part in the 100m freestyle and 50m butterfly event.
“Anything faster than Senior [Nationals] is a realistic expectation,” Khade said on Monday. “That will also get me closer to the Olympic cut.”
Both Srihari and Sajan have achieved the B-mark, in 100m backstroke and 200m butterfly respectively. Srihari, in fact, has been in a record-breaking form leading up to the competition. But his personal best of 54.69, clocked at the World Junior Swimming Championships last month, is a significant 0.84 seconds behind the A-mark. Yet, the 18-year-old was confident of bridging the gap. Srihari will also participate in the 50m and 200m backstroke as well as 100m freestyle event.
“I am confident that the golds are going to happen but it’s the faster timings that I am looking at,” he said. “Breaking national records consistently means I am in form. I am confident of getting the A-cut,” he added.
Among women, sprinter Rujuta Khade, backstroker Maana Patel and middle-distance swimmer Shivani Kataria are expected to swell India’s medal tally.
“We should win a handsome number of medals,” said National coach S. Pradeep Kumar. “[At least] equal to what we won in the previous edition (40 in Tashkent). Also, it’s a high level competition. So they will get pushed and chances of getting the A-qualification are there.”
Middle and long-distance freestyle swimmer Kushagra Rawat is another swimmer to watch out for in the open category.
"The Indian team has been selected basis national trials and the cut off time set by Asia Swimming Federation. These 44 swimmers are the best in the country and this edition of Asian Age Group Championships taking place at home gives them a great opportunity to make a mark at the international level," said Virendra Nanavati, executive director, Swimming Federation of India.
"We have all been eagerly awaiting the start of this Championships and our excitement is palpable as we are competing in an International meet in Bengaluru for the first time. The home advantage will surely be a driving force and we have kept the 'A' cut time in mind during our training in the lead up to this event," Khade said.
"Many of us were not fully tapered during the Senior Nationals held in August. This was to ensure we peak at the right time and I am confident many of us will improve our personal bests during this meet. It's important to not feel the pressure of making the 'A' cut," Srihari Nataraj said.
The event will have participants in open category (18 years and above), as well as Age Groups I (15-17 years) and II (14 years and below).
In the previous edition, India won a total of 40 medals in Swimming with 5 Gold, 13 Silver and 22 bronze medals while in diving, the country won three gold, two silver and three bronze medals.
(With inputs from N. Sudarshan)
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