Srihari Nataraj confident of making Olympics A cut
Since his return from Uzbekistan, where he narrowly missed the Olympic A qualification mark (53.85s) in 100m backstroke at the Uzbekistan Open Championships, Srihari Nataraj has immersed himself in training in Bengaluru. Despite the city under partial lockdown, swimming pools have been kept open for a small group of elite swimmers.
In Uzbekistan, Nataraj broke his national record twice – heats (54.10s) and final (54.07s) – but fell short by just 0.22s of the Olympic cut.
The 20-year-old, who is aiming to become the first Indian swimmer to directly qualify for an Olympics, is confident of achieving the target in his next competition. He is looking to compete in Monte Carlo (Mare Nostrum Tour) from May 29, though he is hoping the travel restrictions for Indians don’t block his chances.
“Things are uncertain but you can’t do much about it. I can only train and hope for the best. But I am confident of getting it (A mark) in my next race,” said Nataraj.
Looking back at the Uzbekistan meet, Nataraj has taken a few lessons. “I thought of getting it done in the heats but just fell short. Maybe taking the heat so hard might have cost a bit of fatigue in the final,” he said.
“If I could have focused going all out in the final, it could have made the difference of 0.22s. We can keep arguing, but it is the best I could do on that day. So that’s fine.”
Nataraj has also spoken to Genadijus Sokolovas, a biomechanics expert from Lithuania who had a workshop with the elite Indian swimmers and put them through several tests that helped them finetune their technique earlier this year.
“He also thought I should have got the A cut if I had not gone all out in the heat. I need to attack my turn a little better.”
Sokolovas’ feedback has brought significant improvement very quickly, said Nataraj.
“It’s a lot of good feedback. He asked me to wait a little bit more till I get to the surface and add another dolphin kick and then start the backstroke kick. It can have a big difference in firing momentum right from the start. He also asked me to pull shallower, work on my stroke rate and head position. I worked on them just for a month and it already made a difference during competition,” he said.
The fact that Nataraj was competing after almost a year and broke his national record twice was in itself a big achievement, said coach Nihar Ameen, who is looking after his training at the Dravid-Padukone Academy for Excellence.
During the lockdown last year he could not get a swimming pool to train for five months and had a lot of catching up to do when he started in August.
“He had reached rock bottom when we resumed training. He has worked so hard to pick up from there,” said Ameen.
“Imagine his peak performance came in 2019 at the FINA World Junior Championships (54.69s). And then he could not train for months and no competition for one year. In his first international meet in a year he broke his national record and missed it (Olympic A) by 0.22 s which is nothing. He will get it in the next tournament,” he said.