Nisha Millet: ‘Sydney Olympics is the high point of my career’

Former India swimmer calls for training in the U.S. and Australia for scientific methods.

Nisha Millet also represented India at the 1998 Asian Games (Thailand) and World Championships (Perth 1999 and Indianapolis 2004). - PHOTO: M.R. PRAVEEN CHANDRAN

Olympic Games was a rude awakening for former India swimmer Nisha Millet. Though it was her childhood dream to participate in an Olympics, it made Millet realise the hard truth that Indian swimming had a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the world.

“Even before the Olympics, I realised we were far behind the rest of the world when I went to Australia on a scholarship in 2000. I was there for three months competing and training, as I was trying to qualify for the Sydney Olympics. I realised that the training methods, which we followed back home, were archaic. In Australia, swimmers were backed by scientific training. And there was an entourage of nutritionists, dieticians, masseurs and physical trainers helping each swimmer. I benefited from the training and qualified for the Olympics,” she said.

“I am happy with all I have achieved. But Sydney Olympics is definitely the high point of my career. I was sad when I couldn’t make it to Atlanta. The atmosphere of an Olympic Village still gives me goosebumps. I still remember how we celebrated when Karnam Malleswari won the weightlifting bronze. Those are good memories which will stay with me for ever,” recalled Millet, who retired in 2002 after undergoing a back surgery. She quit the sport when she learnt about her father’s financial burden. “Back then, there was hardly any sponsorship in swimming and my father was financing me and he was finding it difficult. He made a lot of sacrifices and even relocated from Chennai to Bengaluru. After missing out on the qualification for the 2004 Olympics,” she added.

The 35-year-old, who now runs an academy in Bengaluru, asserts that the rate of attrition among girls is higher in India. “I have noticed that girls quit competitive swimming to concentrate on their studies once they finish school. A few of them pursue swimming professionally. Unlike boys, girls don’t have many role models to look up to in India. Boys have heroes like Virdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal, who won bronze medals at the Asian Games,” reasoned the Arjuna awardee.

Millet believes Indians should train and compete abroad regularly to make a mark at the world level. “There is enough talent here. But after a certain stage, you have to train and compete regularly with stronger rivals to become a world class swimmer. I can tell from my experience in Australia. I was surprised with the sheer number of competitions there. There are meets which offer prize money as well.”

“Our swimmers will benefit a lot from training in countries like the U.S. and Australia, who are ahead in terms of scientific training. Of course, it is easier said than done. You need sponsorship. But things have improved on that front compared to when I was swimming. There are foundations like Olympic Gold Quest, which is sponsoring promising sportspersons in India,” Nisha said.