Swimmer Srihari Nataraj too dips under Tokyo Olympics A qualification mark
A day after Sajan Prakash’s big splash in the pool, Srihari Nataraj also achieved the Tokyo Olympics A qualification standard in 100m backstroke in a time trial organised at the Sette Colli meet in Rome on Sunday. His timing though is yet to be ratified by FINA (world swimming body).
The talented 20-year-old clocked 53.77s (A standard: 53.85s) to make the cut for his maiden Olympic Games, if ratified. Nataraj’s big effort after Sajan Prakash achieved a historic feat, becoming the first Indian swimmer to achieve direct qualification for the Olympics when he clocked 1:56:38 in 200m butterfly. If Srihari’s result is approved by FINA, two Indians will be in the Tokyo pool through the direct qualification route.
“It will be for FINA to accept the result from the time trial at an approved qualification event,” Swimming Federation of India (SFI) secretary general Monal Chokshi said. “It is done routinely at many accredited meets, like recently at the US Olympics team trials for the 400m freestyle event.”
The strapping 6ft 3 Bengaluru swimmer was in relentless pursuit of Tokyo Olympics qualification this year, despite hindrances and personal setbacks amid the pandemic restrictions. Two days earlier in Rome, he missed the mark by .05 sec in his event, clocking 53.90s. SFI then nominated him for a quota spot through Universality places that allows participation if the country otherwise has no representation. That door was closed when Sajan Prakash qualified.
The Indian team then requested the meet organisers to hold a time trial for Srihari on Sunday, and that was accepted.
Srihari had achieved the B qualification standard (55.47secs) at the FINA World Junior Championships in 2019 with a national mark of 54.69s. But B qualification does not guarantee entry for the Olympics. During the lockdown last year, he had to stay away from the pool for close to five months and had almost hit rock bottom because of no training. It was only last August that the federation sent him and a few others to Dubai for training, and it was then one big effort to get back into shape. He also lost his father recently but continued to strive towards achieving the Tokyo Olympics qualification mark.
Srihari has lowered his national mark multiple times in the last three years, including in major competitions like the Asian Games and world championships.
He came back strongly at the Uzbekistan Open Championships in April where he fell short by just 0.22s despite breaking his national record twice. The results from that meet have now been annulled by FINA after Indian swimmer SP Likith alleged tampering with timings by the organisers to favour home swimmers.
On Sunday, Sajan Prakash clocked 1:49.73 in the 200m freestyle in Rome for a new national record.