Sajan Prakash made a splash last year when he became the first Indian swimmer to qualify for back-to-back Olympics – Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.  

Sajan, who finished 24th in the 200m butterfly and 46th in 100m butterfly in Tokyo, has got off to a flying start this season, winning the gold medal in the 200m butterfly at the Danish Open with timing of 1:59.27.

He, however, is not satisfied with the performance as the timing is well below his personal best and the National Record of 1:56.38, set in June 2021 at the 2021 Sette Colli Trophy in Rome.

The dash in Rome helped him achieve the FINA ‘A’ Olympic qualification mark, the first by an Indian.

“Timing and performance-wise, it's not what I expected. But it's always good to win in competitions, winning is good. I’m trying to improve my timings,” says the 28-year-old swimmer to  Sportstar .

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With the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games scheduled later this year, Sajan is saving his energy and looking to peak at the right moment. 

“We are still not fully tapered. We plan to do (tapering) moving forward near June-July to reach maximum potential in the Games,” he says. 

Tapering is the systematic resting of swimmers, reducing their load, helping them sharpen their skills and physical ability, to achieve their peak performance on a particular day or event.  

In Sajan’s case, it’s the Commonwealth and 2022 Asian Games. 

Pressure is mighty on Sajan to perform well at the two multi-sport events. The Indian has a tough road ahead and will face Olympic champions Chad Le Clos and Adam Peaty at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. “Right now, with my timings, I would stand exactly in the same line of other swimmers – being in the medal contention. I’m trying to be better than them in the next couple of months,” he says.

sajan-prakash-pradeep-kumar

Sajan’s coach, Pradeep Kumar (right), who has trained the Indian for a decade, feels that Sajan has improved a lot since the 2018 CWG and 2020 Tokyo Games.

 

Sajan’s best timing for the season in 200m butterfly is 1:59.27, while his 100m fly time was 54.14.

With more than four seconds difference in comparison to the season’s best time, the Indian has a lot to make up for the upcoming competitions.

Having competed against Le Clos at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the Indian finished eighth in the 200m butterfly finals with a timing of 1:59.05, five seconds slower than the South African, who won gold. 

However, that was four years ago. 

Sajan’s coach, Pradeep Kumar, who has trained the Indian for a decade, feels that Sajan has improved a lot since the 2018 CWG and 2020 Tokyo Games, where he failed to qualify for the 200m butterfly semifinals. 

“Right now, he is one to two seconds faster. In the last two years, it has improved by 1.5 seconds. So, he would have a better chance, maybe close to the podium finish this year,” says Kumar, who is the head coach of Aqua Nation Sports Academy in Dubai.

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Both Sajan and Pradeep agree that more international exposure would help Indian swimmers.  

“He has raced with the same people in the past competitions, he knows their strategies and timings. Most top swimmers know their opponents and plan accordingly,” says Kumar.

Kumar explains what gives foreign swimmers an edge over Indians.

“If you have better facilities, there will be differences in training methods and patterns. Other swimmers might have other facilities like scientific support from their government, which help them to improve further,” he says.

“In India, unless there is a certain extent of science helping the athletes, it would be difficult to reach the highest level. When you look at the CWG, AG, or Olympics, they are better equipped, scientifically helped and most importantly acknowledging the athletes' performance, not just the medallists but also others,” he concludes.