Sajan Prakash has outgrown his fan boy moments, sharing the pool with Michael Phelps or shaking hands with Chad le Clos.
“It is now time to not only compete against the best in the world but to win some races against them,’’ says Prakash, who will spearhead the Indian swimming challenge at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
With medals in the last two Asian Games, the Indian swimmers have begun to challenge the might of the Japanese and the Chinese. Gold Coast will be a good opportunity for them to make a splash against some of the world’s biggest names from South Africa, Australia and England.
24-year old Prakash shifted his training base recently from Phuket in Thailand to Dubai to prepare for the Commonwealth and the Asian Games where his main focus will be the 200 m butterfly. Prakash’s personal best in the event has been 1:59:10 and believes that he is not very far from finishing within the medal bracket. “If I can shave 2.5 seconds off my best, there will be a bright chance for a medal. For that I have to work on the last 2 laps. In a 200 meter race, I am at par with most of the world’s best in the first half of the race. However, I seem to struggle towards the close and that’s why in training I am looking to clip those two seconds in the last two laps,’’ explains Prakash.
With an eye on the two big events this year, Prakash had also planned to undergo high- altitude training in Sierra Nevada in Spain. But his plans could not materialise.
Prakash had earned a FINA scholarship which helped him train for the last couple of years under Miguel Lopez Alvarado, a Spanish coach in Phuket, “However this time, I wanted to change my training program and thus moved to Dubai where my childhood coach and the current Indian national coach S Pradeep Kumar runs his swimming academy,’’ says Prakash.
Prakash who holds the national records in 200 meter butterfly and 1,500 meter freestyle will compete in both these events at Gold Coast along with 100 meters butterfly though 200m butterfly is his pet event.
Big Year for Virdhawal Khade
For Virdhawal Khade once hailed as India’s brightest medal prospect in the pool, his career has been all about riding out a storm in a turbulent sea. Khade ended a 24-year-old wait for a medal in the Asian Games when he became the first Indian after Khajan Singh to bag a podium finish in swimming at the 2010 Games. The bronze medal by the then 18-year old while competing against the Chinese, Japanese and Korean swimmers, the emerging world powers in swimming, raised huge expectations. But soon after this success, Khade, employed with the Maharashtra government, was handed a posting in a remote area of the state. It took a toll on his training and he decided to quit the sport. “After the bronze medal, I was determined to go for the gold in the next Asian Games in Incheon but unfortunately it could not happen. But I knew I will be back as I trusted my abilities,’’ says Khade who made a comeback to competitive swimming after a gap of 7 years at the Nationals in 2017.
Even as the demands of his government job halted his training, he suffered a freak injury last year which also put a serious question mark on his comeback bid. Playing a game of football, Khade injured his knee and had to go under the knife. “I had serious doubts whether he will be able to swim again. It was almost a point of no return but he trained really hard on his rehab and has regained his strength,’’ says Nihar Amin who has been overseeing Khade’s training for the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games at the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence in Bengaluru.
Khade’s bronze medal in the Asian Games came in the 50 meter butterfly and he is hopeful of claiming another medal in Jakarta. “I am targeting 24 seconds for the Commonwealth Games where my immediate goal is to make the final. I am working on my starts as my knee surgery has affected the strength on my legs. By the time, Asian Games will be on, I should recover fully and stake a claim for a medal,’’ says the 26-year old who holds 5 individual national records.
In Gold Coast and Jakarta, he will also take part in the 50m freestyle. Recently he won a gold in the event at Singapore National Age Group Swimming Championship, a good confidence booster ahead of the big events. “I honestly feel we will get the best of Khade in roughly two years from now. This is the time his body will need to adapt to a very high intensity program required for a world class swimmer,’’ observes Amin.
The fortunes of Indian swimming in the next couple of years will depend heavily on the performances of Prakash and Khade and therefore the expectations from the duo at the Commonwealth Games against a world class field are high.
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