Swimming: Not yet out of the waters

"We need sports psychologists, nutritionists, physiologists, and a sports masseur day in and day out. We also need an analyst, with every session recorded on video and analysed. It is on that basis that a coach can draw up a programme. The maximum I have is a heart-rate monitor. That’s not enough," National swimming coach S. Pradeep Kumar pointed out.

S. Pradeep Kumar flanked by Sajan Prakash and Shivani Katariya

As Sajan Prakash and Shivani Katariya prepare to represent India in the pool at next month’s Olympic Games, it is fair to say expectations are fairly modest. The two were awarded Universality places earlier this month, with Sajan to compete in the men’s 200m butterfly and Shivani in the women’s 200m freestyle. “Expectations are not very high. Qualifying was the toughest bit for us, and now we have hardly 25 days to train. But what we’re trying to do is go a little faster,” admitted National swimming coach S. Pradeep Kumar at the Basavanagudi Aquatic Centre here, where he is overseeing the duo’s training.

“Sajan will probably go a second faster; he may come very close to the semifinals. We will do some fine-tuning. If there is half a second that we can shave off, we will be glad. For Shivani, the last couple of meets have not gone well. We’re looking at the problems she has had. In another 20 days, we’ll probably be able to bring her back to the right shape.”

But to Pradeep, what they do after the Games is as important as — if not more than — their performance there. “They should give something back to Indian swimming after this kind of exposure. After the Olympics, they should continue to swim. It will be a morale boost for those training with them. Swimming with an Olympian is a big deal. I grew up hearing of ‘Olympian Suresh Babu’ and ‘Olympian P.T. Usha’. Their mere presence motivates the rest of the crowd. Look at Rehan Poncha, Virdhawal Khade, or Sandeep Sejwal, who are role models. I don’t want Sajan or Shivani to think: ‘I’ve become an Olympian; I don’t need to swim any more.’”

While Pradeep is pleased with how far Indian swimming has come, he paints a bleak picture of its position relative to the leading nations in the sport. “The gap between us and the rest of the world is only 5 per cent. But to bridge this gap, we require unlimited funding. We are competing against people with cutting edge technology.

"We need sports psychologists, nutritionists, physiologists, and a sports masseur day in and day out. We also need an analyst, with every session recorded on video and analysed. It is on that basis that a coach can draw up a programme. The maximum I have is a heart-rate monitor. That’s not enough,” he pointed out.

For Pradeep, who has been coaching at the BAC here for close to 30 years, Rio will mark a third visit to the Olympic Games. He was in Beijing in 2008, having helped Rehan Poncha qualify, and in London in 2012, when A.P. Gagan competed in the men’s 1,500m freestyle event. “My first swimmer at the Olympics was Nisha Millet in 2000 but I couldn’t go to Sydney,” he said. “I am fortunate to be going to a third Olympics after 2008 and 2012. That’s crazy. I can’t believe it. The feel of being there in the village is unbelievable. It is God’s grace. I thank the federation, the government and my swimmers; they are the root cause.”