Nataraj seventh in world junior swimming, achieves ‘B’ qualifying mark for Tokyo Games
Indian teenager Srihari Nataraj has achieved the 100m backstroke Olympic ‘B’ qualification mark, clocking a national record 54.69secs in the semi-finals at the World Junior Swimming Championships in Budapest, Hungary. The 18-year-old went on to finish seventh in Wednesday’s final, clocking 54.85 secs.
Nataraj finished sixth in the semi-finals after improving his national record. The Bengaluru swimmer also holds the national records in the 50m backstroke (25.83 secs) and 200m backstroke (2:02.08 secs)—both marks were set at the senior worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, in July. Three other Indians have achieved ‘B’ qualification marks—Sajan Prakash (200m butterfly), Advait Page (1500m freestyle) and Kushagra Rawat (800m freestyle).
Achieving the ‘B’ mark doesn’t guarantee an automatic berth for the 2020 Tokyo Games. He must achieve the ‘A’ qualification mark of 53.85 secs to be certain of a spot. However, he has till May 31 next year to do that.
With the 50m backstroke not in the Olympics, the 200m backstroke will be the other event Nataraj will be focusing on. The ‘A’ qualification time for the event is 1:57.50 secs (‘B’—2:01.03 secs).
Swimmers achieving the ‘B’ mark will only be called to compete in Tokyo if the total quota of 878 swimmers is not reached based on the priority order—athletes with Olympic ‘A’ qualifying times, athletes in relays and universality places (ensuring more countries get entries).
After the quota for the three categories is filled, FINA will call those who have achieved ‘B’ time till the total quota is reached. If berths are still vacant, they will be distributed by event as per the FINA world ranking as June 29, 2020.
In the last two Olympics, no Indian swimmer achieved ‘A’ qualification time and entry was given only via the universality quota. Each country can enter two athletes in the universality quota.
However, Nataraj would want to push for automatic qualification. He will next compete in the Asian Age Group Championships in Bengaluru, an Olympic qualifying event.
Last year, Nataraj competed in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and the Jakarta Asian Games, setting national records. At the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires last October, Srihari was the first Indian to qualify for the final, finishing sixth in the 100m backstroke.