Srihari Nataraj and the cost of creating India’s best swimmer

Srihari Nataraj’s family has been funding his national record-breaking participation around the world, even as the swimmer attempts to qualify for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

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Srihari Nataraj during a practice session at Ramakrishna Hegde Swimming pool in Bengaluru on December 28, 2018.   -  Sudhakara Jain

Three months ago, swimmer Srihari Nataraj’s father Nataraj Venkataraman was not very keen on sending his son for the senior World Championships in South Korea.

“When his dad heard that we had to spend so much for the World Championships, he said, ‘You need not go. If you have to go to the worlds spending money, what value do your achievements have?’” revealed Kalyani, Srihari’s mother, in a chat with Sportstar in Bhopal on Friday.

It was the young swimmer’s uncle, former international Sivaranjani’s father, who made Srihari’s dad change his mind to fund his son’s trip.

“We have spent nearly ₹8 lakh for Srihari’s two World Championships within the last one month or so, the senior worlds in Gwangju in July and the junior in Budapest, which ended a few days ago. We spend ₹70,000-80,000 every month for his swimming and have spent nearly ₹30 lakh for his sport over the last few years,” said Kalyani, a former Tamil Nadu junior volleyball player who hails from Pudukottai.

READ| Need to better my turns, kicks off the wall: Srihari

“He got government support of ₹50,000, and all his other expenses were covered under the TOP (Target Olympic Podium) Scheme for eight months till the Asian Games last year, but this year we have been getting only ₹10,000 for about eight months under the Khelo India scheme. His dad has just retired and it is not going to be easy to spend such big amounts for long,” she added.

Well, that is the cost of creating the country’s best swimmer!

And the boy could turn out to be India’s best. Just last week, the Bengaluru-based 18-year-old broke the senior national record in all the three backstroke events at the junior worlds, finishing sixth in the 50m in 25.50s and seventh in the 100m with the national record of 54.69s coming in the semifinal. A month earlier, he had broken two national records at the senior worlds.

He had a three-national record run at last year’s Jakarta Asian Games, finishing sixth and seventh in two, and also had two national marks at the Commonwealth Games a few months before that.

READ| Srihari Nataraj: Born for the pool

Lucky pool

Srihari, now in Bhopal for the national senior aquatic championships that begin on Saturday, has made it a habit of breaking national records in almost every major meet.

His goal now is to make the ‘A’ standard qualification for next year’s Tokyo Olympics in the 100m and 200m backstroke, and he is very close to it in the shorter event (qualification is 53.85s).

“I’m focusing a lot on the 100m here because I’m just 0.8s off the Olympic ‘A’ cut. I won my first senior national here and this a kind of lucky pool for me, so I’m going to try my best in every event,” said Srihari, who will be participating in nearly 10 events in Bhopal, including the relays.