Virdhawal Khade and Rujuta — India's fastest swimming couple

Rujuta Khade, wife of Virdhawal Khade, won the 50m freestyle gold medal on Monday at the National Aquatics Championships on Monday.

Rujuta Khade (L) embraces her husband Virdhawal Khade after winning the women's 50m freestyle gold.   -  A. M. Faruqui

His heart was pumping fast, one had never seen Virdhawal Khade so stressed out before.

Well, Khade – the country's fastest swimmer – was not racing, it was his wife Rujuta who was splashing furiously in the pool and some 26 seconds later, she emerged as the country's fastest female swimmer, taking the 50m freestyle title at the 73rd Glenmark National senior aquatics championships here on Monday evening.

Now they are now the country's fastest couple in swimming with Khade taking the 50m free title a day before.

“I think it was one of the most stressful races in my life, my heart was pumping hard when she raced,” said Khade in a chat with Sportstar at the Prakash Tarun Pushkar pool here.

“Now you know what it feels like for us,” joked a few ladies, including international Srihari Nataraj's mother Kalyani, who had their children competing here.

Rujuta, from Maharashtra like Khade, was returning to the big stage after four years.

“She had raced at the Nationals before 2015 but after we got married in 2017 this is the first time she is racing in a National competition,” said Khade who had met Rujuta at the Khar Gymkhana when he was posted in Mumbai in 2015.

“Frankly, she didn't want to swim, she was mentally not into it but earlier this year, she just started swimming for fitness and then she realised that she was doing well. So she started training quite hard and I think even Nihar (Ameen, their coach in Bengaluru) started encouraging her.”

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Khade now feels that Rujuta could have gone much faster.

“I think if she had a little more racing experience this year, she would have definitely gone much faster. In fact, we had trained her keeping the record in mind, honestly, realistically, the record was within reach. Here, medal is very important, probably next time she will get the record,” said the 28-year-old, the 50m butterfly bronze medallist at the 2010 Asian Games.

Close to his best

Khade is also close to his best and on Monday, he broke his own 50m butterfly meet record, clocking 24.19s.

Surprisingly, he had clocked a much slower 24.41s at the World championships in Gwangju, South Korea, in July.

He explained that he had been injured a few days before the Worlds and that was the reason for his disappointment there.

“I was quite upset because I got injured a week I left for the Worlds. I tore the ligament in my knee so I could not dive, I could not push for an entire week. So I did a lot of rehab work and that has definitely helped me, I've got much more confidence. Still, I can do 15 to 20 per cent more,” he said.

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“I think in the next three weeks I should be much faster. Breaking that 50 free record is definitely going to happen, it's just a matter of time. We are training keeping in mind the 'A' cut for the Tokyo Olympics (22.01s) and that should happen in the next few months.

“Nobody has ever done the 'A' cut in India for the Olympics.”

Incidentally, both Khade and Rujuta have made the cut for the Asian age-group championships which will be held in Bengaluru later this month.