Their resumption of training still on hold due to government guidelines, elite Indian swimmers say the continued restrictions on the use of pools will not only affect their performance in the next few years but is also taking a toll on their mental health.
Swimmers in the country have not entered the pools since March 25, when the first coronavirus-forced lockdown was announced. The latest Ministry of Home Affairs’ guidelines on the third phase of easing lockdown restrictions still prohibited the use of swimming pools till August 31.
Srihari Nataraj, who achieved the ‘B’ qualification mark last year in the 100m backstroke event with a national record 54.69sec, said this forced break has pushed back the careers of swimmers by almost a year, the effects of which will be felt in the Tokyo Olympics and the next Asian Games.
“Had we been training, all of us would have made substantial progress. Now it’s going to take us at least 3-4 months to make the same amount of progress, setting us back by almost an entire year,” Nataraj told PTI.
The 19-year-old needs to bring his timing down to 53.85secs to be sure of a Tokyo Olympics spot.
“The things I would have achieved in March, I will achieve in December if I get back to training now. We are wasting a lot of time in our careers. It will affect our performance in Tokyo Olympics, 2022 Asian Games,” Nataraj added.
Kushagra Rawat, who has achieved the ‘B’ qualification mark in the three events of 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle, said the lack of training opportunities was also affecting the Indian swimmers mentally.
“Swimming pools have opened all over the world, so it keeps playing on our mind that they (who have started training) have improved their timings while we haven’t even been in a pool for four months,” Rawat said.
“It is such a discipline that even if you miss out for a day or two, that impacts your performance. When I took a three-month break for my 12th board exams it took me three months to get back to the earlier timings.”
The Swimming Federation of India has been asking for permission for the Olympic hopefuls to resume training since May, but to no avail.
Dronacharya award-winning coach Nihar Ameen also expressed disappointment at the government’s decision to keep the swimming pools shut for the elite swimmers.
“We keep getting promises that in the next unlock the pools will be opened. Swimming is one of the safest sports and if all the other sports including contact sports and gyms are open then why not swimming?” Ameen asked.
Nataraj, Virdhawal Khade, Sajan Prakash, Rawat, Aryan Makhija and Advait Page are the six swimmers who have achieved the ‘B’ qualification mark in their respective events for the Olympics and are aiming for the ‘A’ standard.
Out of them, Prakash and Makhija have been lucky enough to resume training. While Prakash, who spent the entire lockdown at an academy in Phuket, started training when the pools opened in Thailand, Makhija flew to Alabama, USA, where he is enrolled at Auburn University, in mid-July.
However, Nataraj, Rawat, and Khade do not have any plans to go outside for training.
“The only option for me is what the federation is planning. Others going abroad are already enrolled in universities. I don’t have that option,” Nataraj said.
“I’m relying on federation as I can’t afford to train abroad. Apart from the cost, there are also logistical issues,” Rawat said.
Khade also said he will not travel abroad to train in a personal capacity.
Earlier this week, the SFI said it was looking to organise a training camp for its Olympic hopefuls outside the country.
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