Srihari Nataraj has been away from the pool this long in a career that has spanned a decade. The national record-holding swimmer says he has finally found a few ways to kill the boredom that has come with the coronavirus-forced lockdown.
In a bid to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed over 82,000 worldwide, countries, including India, have gone into lockdowns and all sports events have been halted across the globe.
“I don’t have a pool at home so I’ve not been in the water for three weeks or so,” Natraj told PTI. “In the past 10 years, this is longest I have been out of the pool. It is my first break in 10 years.”
Srihari achieved the ‘B’ qualification mark for Olympics last year in the 100m backstroke event, clocking a national record 54.69sec in the semi-finals of the World Junior Championships in Budapest, Hungary. However, to be sure of an Olympic place, Srihari must achieve the ‘A’ qualification mark of 53.85sec.
The 19-year-old, whose schedule is usually packed with travelling for meets and events in and out of the country, has turned to home workouts, like several other athletes, to remain physically fit. “The first few days were pretty hard.”
“I’m not used to not training. I started working out at home to try and keep myself as fit as I can. I’ve managed to find some other things to do, so now, the boredom is manageable.”
Despite being confined to his house, the men’s 50m national backstroke champion remains positive and is catching up on some sleep. He said, “Even though I’m not training right now, I know what I do now can make a difference to my performance when I get back to the pool. So I’m concentrating on that.
“I’ve been watching a lot of series and movies, reading books. Also sleeping a lot, giving my body the rest it needs.”
For a swimmer to be out of water for a long period of time poses several problems. Srihari has already begun thinking about how he is going to ease back into his routine once normalcy resumes.
“I am going to get back to it slowly. I’ll build my workouts. I will start the intense workouts after two and a half-three weeks of resumption. It all depends on how long I stay off swimming.”
Another concern is the uncertainty around the sports events. Several swimming meets have been postponed or cancelled while there is no word on the ones scheduled for the second half of the year.
He added: “I had a meet in March in Singapore which was postponed, so then I planned a meet in Dubai in April which was also cancelled. If the situation gets better by May and we get back into training then maybe I’ll look at a meet in Singapore in June.
“I had planned meets every month but don’t know what the situation will be like.”
The teenager, who will feature in his first-ever Olympics if he makes it, says he was a little disappointed when the Tokyo Games were pushed to 2021. “I was looking forward to be a part of it this year. Little disappointed that the decision had to be taken,” Srihari said.
“[But] the Olympics being postponed was the best thing that could have happened given these circumstances.”
The International Swimming Federation is reviewing the dates of its summer 2021 World Championships after the Tokyo Olympics was pushed. There is a possibility that the two high-profile events will be held back-to-back but Srihari remains unperturbed.
“My goals will still remain the same. They are based on time periods like end of June or mid of next year etc, rather than on specific meets,” he said.
“I don’t take pressure. If the two are held back-to-back I’ll try and make sure I’m conditioned well. I’ll attend more meets. I’ll race a lot, it’s something that I feel can be managed.”