Weary of waiting, swimmer Virdhawal Khade feels too late to make it to Tokyo Olympics
India’s Olympic swimming hopeful Virdhawal Khade no longer seems to be chasing his dream of competing in the postponed Tokyo Olympics next summer.
The pools in the country have remained shut since March due to Covid-19 and the government has allowed their reopening for competitive swimmers on October 15.
After seven months of inactivity due to not training on a pool, Khade, 29, one of India’s six swimmers to achieve the B qualification time for the Olympics, has virtually decided “not to train” for the next international season. “Have lost nearly six to seven months of vital training and I don’t think I would be successful in achieving what I want to at this moment,” said the Mumbai-based 2010 Asian Games bronze medallist.
Srihari Natraj, Kushagra Rawat, Sajan Prakash, Aryan Makhija and Advait Page have also achieved the B qualification standard in their events and are training for the Games, postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic.
Sports Authority of India (SAI) announced Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for swimmers on Friday. Khade said: “Pools aren’t opening in Maharashtra before October 31. When they open, I will take a call.”
Khade clocked 22.44 seconds for men’s 50 metres freestyle, achieving the B qualification mark (22.64) in the 2019 qualifying cycle. The B norm does not guarantee an Olympics berth as per the policy of FINA, swimming’s world governing body. The A qualification time that guarantees a berth is 22.01 secs.
In September, Khade was among the three elite swimmers chosen by SAI for a short training stint in Dubai while pools remained shut in India. He opted out.
Asked if he could change his mind, Khade wasn’t optimistic. “Swimming is a tough event. It will be difficult to catch up with others,” he said.
Former national coach Nihar Ameen says opening of the pools is only the first step. How swimmers react in their first competition will give a clear picture of their fitness levels. “Sooner the athletes compete the better,” he added.
The government has permitted opening of pools—except in containment zones—from Thursday. Training in alternate lanes and in small batches are in the SOP for reopening of pools. The guidelines also direct athletes to keep at least six feet apart. Pools will be open strictly for competitive training and those under 12 years must not be allowed to train. Athletes and coaches would be screened for Covid-19 before being allowed use of the common field area, as per the SOP.