World is getting competitive, we have to take a step further: Advait Page targets 'A' Cut for Olympics

Published on Sep 03, 2022 04:33 PM IST

In an interaction with Hindustan Times, Advait Page reflects on his Commonwealth Games outing, his future targets and allows us to delve into the mind of a long-distance swimmer.

Advait Page during 2022 Commonwealth Games(Instagram/advaitzzz)
Advait Page during 2022 Commonwealth Games(Instagram/advaitzzz)

It was a Commonwealth Games of many firsts for the Indian contingent. The podium finishes justifiably stood apart; but beyond the shine of the medals, two Indian athletes achieved a historic feat in a sport where the country is yet to properly make a mark – swimming. Advait Page and Kushagra Rawat – two of India’s major long-distance swimmers – qualified for the final of the 1500m freestyle event, eventually finishing 7th and 8th in the medal race respectively. It was the first time at the Games when two Indian swimmers took part in the final of a single race category. One of them –Page – is also the national record holder in the 1500m Freestyle event with timings of 15:23:66s, which he recorded at the Fran Crippen Swim Meet of Champions last year.

Page also had B Cut (Olympic Standard Time) qualification in the 800m Freestyle event for the Tokyo Olympics last year but he had eventually failed to make it to the Games. Following a commendable performance in Birmingham, the 21-year-old swimmer sat down with Hindustan Times to share his experience at the Games, reveal his future plans, and allow us to delve into the mind of a long-distance swimmer.

Firstly, just summarize for us your experience at the Commonwealth Games this year.

It was a great experience. This was my first time, so I was excited. They sent us to Manchester for a camp a week before the start of the game, so we trained for a bit with the other members of Team India. Then, we headed to Birmingham.

It was an amazing atmosphere interacting with the athletes. I went to the Asian Games in 2018, but it has been a while since then. After Covid, it felt good to be back with the athletes like this. It was quite diverse, and it was amazing because you meet with people from across the globe.

You had secured the ‘B’ Cut for Olympic qualification in 800m freestyle last year. Is there a plan to go back to that category?

Yes. 800m was not the event held at the CWG. I had the option to enter the other events like the 400m freestyle and the relay, but I just chose to focus on this one (1500m freestyle). 800m remains in our plans though, with the World Championships and the Olympic cycle coming up.

I had B Cuts last year in both events (800m freestyle and 1500m freestyle), so that remains in the plan. These are the events which I look forward to next year in Asian Games, World Championships, and the Olympics too.

Earlier this year, FINA (international swimming body) had released the qualifying timings for Paris 2024. But it also saw a decrease in the number of swimming quotas from 439 to 426 in the men’s category. Have there been conversations in the Indian camp about that?

Every year, times get faster and faster. But this year, they got very fast. There's a huge jump from what ‘B’ Cuts used to be. B Cuts are calculated at 0.5 percent added to the ‘A’ Cut (direct qualification) timing. So, it is a very small margin. When we were talking about it amongst ourselves, however, it wasn't really anything negative. India is now at a spot where people have achieved A Cuts. Last year, Srihari Nataraj had participated in Olympics with the A Cut qualification. So now, it is expected from us.

The shifting of B Cuts is not that big. We all hope to surpass A Cuts in future. The world is getting more competitive and India will have to take a step further to compete at the highest level. So, we are ready for the upcoming challenge and we take it in a positive way.

You and Kushagra are the major long-distance swimmers in India right now, and also participate in the same categories. Were there any specific discussions on the same?

We have a very friendly relationship. We don't talk swimming often, actually. When we do talk about swimming, we are always trying to motivate each other. We understand that we are rivals and we are fighting for a spot, but in no way, we are trying to put the other down. We always push each other. I feel his presence in the Indian distance swimming has helped me a lot. We have gone back and forth holding national records as well.

When it (the Olympic qualification timings) was announced, we were like 'we would go for it'. It would be even better if both of us qualify for the Olympics. India have never sent two swimmers (for the same category) at the Olympics; obviously, there have been a lot of changes in how qualification works. A historic feat that we achieved was putting two Indian swimmers in a Commonwealth Games final (1500m Freestyle). As the sport moves forward, we can together achieve something.

Let’s talk about distance swimming, now. An event such as 1500m Freestyle means you are in the pool for longer durations. It must also allow you ample time to improvise your strategies, or possibly adapt to your opponent swimmers’ performances. How much of it is instinctive? Do you specifically prepare for these things?

I feel distance swimming and training for distance swimming comprise of both of these things. You have to work on the controllable and one part of it is reacting to the uncontrollable, which is what your competitors are doing. We see that in distance running, we call it ‘pace-setting’ -- it can be fast or slow sometimes. Something similar goes in the 1500m as well.

I believe once you have someone next to you to push you through, you, being a competitor, are going to race and only get faster. You won't pay attention to what's slowing you down during an intense battle. Accordingly, you have to look at the kind of swimmers you're competing with. You might want to get ahead of the pack and lead a race, or you might want to attack from behind at a certain point. So, it depends on what the competition is.

A lot of times, we take part in preparatory meets. We focus on smaller things that we might want to execute in an actual race. For example, maybe I want to take out fast (start with a fast pace) and see how long I can hold, so stuff like that. So, you have to be working on your strong points as well the weak ones. Every swimmer has a point where they are the strongest on the race, so you need to be balanced enough to work on the strategy but at the same time, you have to be flexible with the situation around you.

Does lane make a difference in such long races?

I don't have a lane preference. The faster seeds are in lane 3 or 4 or 5. Slower seeds get the outer lane. There's no real advantage in that except that when you are in the middle, you get to see the whole pool. You get to see the right and the left. If you are in the outer lane, you can only see a few lanes on your right or left; you can't see the other side of the pool. That's the only difference.

A lot of people now are trying to look for outer lanes, though. We saw it in the World Championships with Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri, he got the outer lane (lane 1) but he took it out fast, and it was harder for middle-lane competitors to keep up because they had to really look out at him. He was away from everyone else, and it paid for him.

I was in the outer lane this time too. I just told myself that I had to swim my own race. I won't really be able to see a lot of what's going on, so at the time it didn’t matter where the opponents are.

When we talk about 1500m freestyle, among the first names that come to mind is that of Sun Yang. Has he been a part of your training procedures, in terms of analysing the videos or anything similar?

Definitely. He has the best technique in distance swimming. He is tall and his body really helps him to move forward. A lot of it is the skill he has worked on, he has a beautiful smooth stroke. So, he is one of the top people to look at to improve your technique. I have done that. I also look at videos on what he does outside training, how he prepares on the overall basis.

One thing that really stands out is that he is really really fast in the last 100m and last 50m. Many are just not able to catch up with him during that time. It is similar to my way of swimming, I have a stronger back half. My last 100m is always strong. That way, I take inspiration from him. I had the opportunity to see him twice in person as well, back in 2018. It was a huge moment for me, I even got to interact with him. So, I just hope to apply that to my career.

How did the Dream Sports Foundation and Go Sports Foundation's Stars of Tomorrow program help you in your career?

GoSports and Dream Sports Foundation picked me up in 2018. I was a young swimmer with a lot to learn, so they connected me with experts on the panel, as well as (took care of) funding. Any sport nowadays is expensive if you want to compete at the highest level. That was the issue I had been facing as well.

That takes a lot of pressure off the finances as well. Family knows there is a certain funding behind to be able to pursue the sport and reach greater heights. It also enables me to interact with other athletes through GoSports award ceremonies. I feel privileged to be a part of such a community. GoSports and Dream Sports Foundation have given me a great opportunity.

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