Spotlight on Srihari, Virdhawal and Sajan

The Tokyo Olympics 'A' qualification standard is the big goal for all the top swimmers this year.

India's fastest swimmer ever, Virdhawal Khade's timing of 24.65s was not enough to make the cut for the FINA World Championships.   -  AP

He is the country's fastest swimmer ever but Virdhawal Khade was not in his best shape at the recent FINA World Championships in South Korea. The 28-year-old is ready to brush away that disappointment in the 73 Glenmark National senior aquatic championships which begin at the Prakash Tarun Pushkar pool here on Saturday.

The Tokyo Olympics 'A' qualification standard is the big goal for all the top swimmers this year and Khade is no exception.

“Unfortunately, I wasn't as fast as I wanted to be at the Worlds. I don't really know what the reasons are. I will be substantially faster here than I was at the Worlds, at least half a second faster, that's the target,” said the Maharashtra-born swimmer who is four tenths of a second away from the Tokyo time (22.01s) with his 50m freestyle National record (22.43s) that came at last year's Asian Games.

“However, for me this is just like a 'train through' competition, the main one will be the Asian age-group event in Bengaluru next month.”

Sajan Prakash, who normally has a rich gold haul at the senior Nationals, was also a bit off-colour at the Worlds. In fact, his timings have dropped down disappointingly from the national records he clocked at last year's senior Nationals in Thiruvananthapuram. He seems to be stuck in a zone.

“That's because, once we reach the elite level it's all about micro-seconds. It's sport, you need to live through that. The Worlds were not good because the taper did not go well as expected. Now also, the training has not been that great after the World Police Games, we couldn't continue training. So let's see,” said the 25-year-old freestyle and butterfly star, who trains at the FINA-approved academy in Thailand, under the world body's scholarship, and also occasionally with national coach Pradeep Kumar in Dubai.

“The 200m fly is the only event I will be targeting here.” Prakash has a personal best of 1:57.73s in the 200 while the Olympic 'A' standard is 1:56.48s.

All eyes will be on Karnataka's backstroke star Srihari Nataraj, the country's hottest swimmer this year and last after his series of national records. Nataraj, landed in the country just four days ago after the junior Worlds in Hungary and could be weary after a high-pressure event.

“It will not be easy, I will be watching out for Arvind Mani and P.S. Madhu,” said the 18-year-old.

The women have not exactly been in great form in recent times when compared to the men and, according to National coach Pradeep Kumar, that is a concern. Richa Mishra, Maana Patel and Shivani Kataria are some of the girls to watch out for here.

With the Asian age-group not very far, the swimmers will try to do their best to make it to the team.

After the morning heats and the evening's opening ceremony, the finals are likely to start around 5 p.m. Bhopal will host the swimming and waterpolo events while the diving events will be held in Indore.