Ridhima Veerendra Kumar, the 14-year-old sensation making waves in the pool

The last fortnight has been life-changing for Ridhima Veerendra Kumar. Over nine competitive days of swimming action at the sub-junior, junior and senior National Aquatic Championships, she won nine golds and a silver, broke two National records and swept the backstroke races across the junior and senior divisions.

Ridhima Veerendra Kumar

Ridhima Veerendra Kumar's performance at the National Aquatic Championships was so impressive that she has been chosen in the four-member Indian team for the FINA World Short Course Championships in Abu Dhabi this December – the lone woman – and at 14 will be among the youngest swimmers at the competition.   -  MURALI KUMAR K

The last fortnight has been life-changing for Ridhima Veerendra Kumar. Over nine competitive days of swimming action at the sub-junior, junior and senior National Aquatic Championships here, she won nine golds and a silver, broke two National records and swept the backstroke races across the junior and senior divisions.

The force of her performance was such that she was picked in the four-member Indian team for the FINA World Short Course Championships in Abu Dhabi this December – the lone woman – and at 14 will be among the youngest swimmers at the competition.

“I didn't expect to do as well as I did,” Ridhima said, with a faint but confident smile. “Not this big, definitely. But I knew I had done the work for it and that I would cut down timings and come up with a good show.”

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“This was the first full month of racing after Covid. I started in Belgrade, at the school games, where I won two silvers and a bronze. At the end of the Nationals, my body was a bit worn out, but it feels good because all the two years I missed sort of got covered. All the hard work I put in, the home work we all did during the lockdown, were all worth it, I guess,” she added.

Ridhima Veerendra Kumar

Gold medals weren’t Ridhima’s targets, but record timings. And she only missed rewriting Maana’s National record in 50m backstroke by 0.05 seconds and in 100m backstroke by 0.07.   -  MURALI KUMAR K

 

The highlight of her success was her showdown with Olympian Maana Patel, seven years her senior. In juniors, she bettered two of Maana’s records and in seniors she beat the Gujarat swimmer to the gold across 50m, 100m and 200m. Maana may have been slightly off colour after the Olympic high, but the forming of a pecking order in Indian women’s swimming can only be good news.

“How much ever I tried to avoid, it was at the back of my mind that I would be swimming against Maana,” says Ridhima. “But somewhere I knew that I had also trained for it. I am as strong as her and I knew that.”

Gold medals weren’t Ridhima’s targets, but record timings. And she only missed rewriting Maana’s National record in 50m backstroke by 0.05 seconds and in 100m backstroke by 0.07.

“I just swim to get a time and it doesn't matter even if I get the silver, I am happy and satisfied. I am half a second off from the best Indian performance in 100m (Maana’s 1:03.77 in Belgrade). If I keep going at this pace, I think I can better it,” she said.

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“Now my best is 1:04 in the long course (100m backstroke). So, in the short course championship, 1:01 is my goal. To qualify for Asian Games 2022 is my main target,” she added.

Her run at the nationals and her age can give the impression that Ridhima has just exploded on to the National scene. But her coach at the Basavanagudi Aquatic Centre, John Christopher, believes her rise has been more steady than steep.

“She didn't sprout just like that,” Christopher said. “It is not like she has peaked early. She has taken the time to do what she has. Four years back she was 1:11 in backstroke and slowly she has progressed to 1:04. By March-May, I expect her to go 1:03 in 100m backstroke.”

“I am not going to say that she will go 1:01. I am not going to say that she is going to be in the Olympics. It won't be a cakewalk. You just have to put your head down and keep working," he added.

In that quest, Ridhima has her parents’ and coach’s full backing, and with a brother who played national-level basketball and a father who played volleyball, she has people who understand the hardships a sportsperson goes through. The Delhi Public School (South) student appears primed for success.

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“Her biggest strength is her courage, and winning is a passion for her,” says Christopher. “She always wants to better her previous best. Like everybody else she also has some fear factors. Even Michael Phelps had it!”

“I just tell her to respect the opponent because everybody would have worked before coming to a race. Nobody will come to lose.” Ridhima doesn’t too.

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