It was an emotional homecoming for Rehan Poncha when he stepped into the St. Joseph’s Boys’ High School in Bangalore. Poncha’s face was replete with emotions as he tried to find his way through the hundreds of students mobbing him. The Beijing-bound swimmer was visiting his alma mater for the first time after qualifying for the Olympics and was initially ‘shocked’ with the reception.
Poncha became the fourth Indian swimmer to book a berth for Beijing when he broke Khazan Singh’s 22-year-old national record to achieve the ‘B’ qualification mark in the 200m-butterfly event at the Telstra Grand Prix swimming meet in Sydney. And when the Bangalorean stopped the clock at 2:01.4sec, it was more relief than jubilation for him as he had missed the mark in a couple of events before.
The four-time national champion admitted he had to work harder on controlling his anxiety along with planning for the race. Poncha sprinted through the first 100m and relied on his endurance to complete the race under the qualifying mark.
“I knew this was going to be my last chance to qualify for Beijing. And I was desperate,” said the 21-year-old.
It was another desperate situation that brought Poncha to the swimming pool as a five-year-old. The Mumbai-born used to suffer from bronchitis and his parents were advised to teach him swimming as cure.
“My tutor there asked me to take part in a competition. I finished second last in that event. The embarrassment pumped me up,” reminisced Poncha. “I trained hard and finished second in the next tournament and my career began to take shape.”
So was Poncha under pressure after two newcomers — Veerdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal — had qualified for the Olympics? “I wasn’t under pressure because of them. But I was definitely under pressure because of my expectations,” he added.
Poncha admitted he doesn’t stand a chance at the Games. “I am six seconds off the last edition's medal performance. But I have set myself a target of swimming under 2 min,” said the swimmer who trains for five hours in the pool and one hour in the gymnasium.
The swimmer opted not to go abroad to train, as he was more at peace with himself here. National coach Pradeep Kumar was also surprised with his call but said they are giving their best shot.