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Not just a customary splash

other Updated: Aug 05, 2011 01:02 IST
Abhijeet Kulkarni

Till the Beijing Olympics, India's presence in aquatic events was virtually non-existent, with representation restricted to officials or a lone participant making up the numbers. Perceptions changed in 2008 with four youngsters representing the country in seven events. None of them managed to clear the first round, but they created a platform from where they could take off.

Virdhawal Khade (20) and Sandeep Sejwal (22), flag bearers of India's challenge at London, are accorded star status at the Jain Heritage School swimming pool, where they train almost six hours a day.

The two, holding almost all national records in their respective events, achieved the 'B' qualification mark for the Games at the World Swimming Championship in Shanghai last week. Sejwal was the first to achieve the goal in 100m breaststroke and Khade followed a day later with a timing of 50.34s in 100m freestyle.

"I managed to achieve the mark in the first competition and that gives us almost a year to prepare. But I have one more event, and I will try and attain the 'A' mark," said Sejwal.

Not just Sejwal, even Khade will attempt to qualify for 50m and 200m. And along with coach, Nihar Amin, they are busy working out a schedule.

"With one spot assured, we will prepare a plan with the London Games in mind. This will include participating in a few international meets where we will attempt to qualify for other events," said Amin.

"We have identified Frankfurt as the final training destination where we will spend a month before the Games. The centre has all the facilities and that's important to cut costs," he added.

Currently, Sejwal and Khade train in a 25m pool, but they go to the Sports Authority of India, about 30km from the centre, whenever they want to train in an Olympic-size pool.

But Khade is not bothered, stating he had prepared for the Commonwealth and Asian Games here. "The performance in those events gave me a lot of confidence," said the Kolhapur youngster, who became the first Indian swimmer in 24 years to win an Asian Games medal.

While Sejwal and Khade are India's best bet, veteran Rehan Poncha and upcoming J Agnishwar and Aaron D'Souza still have time to qualify.