Till its halfway point,this could be a freestyle event at any swimming meet in the world. But at the 25m mark,the swimmers disappear beneath the surface of the pool,and emerge a second or so later clutching orange manikins. Filled with water,the manikins weigh close to 80kg,and are meant to simulate a drowning human. This,the 50m Manikin Carry,is one of 10 pool events scheduled to be held at the Lifesaving World Championships in Adelaide this November.
It is Friday evening at the Balewadi aquatic complex. The Rashtriya Life Saving Society of India (RLSSI) — which serves as the governing body for lifesaving sports in India — is conducting selection trials for the Indian contingent. “We’re looking to select six boys and six girls,” says Ankit Wagh,Manager,Operations and Training,RLSSI.
Wagh was part of the Indian team at the 2006 World Championships in Melbourne,where he clocked the eighth fastest time in the 100m Manikin Tow. In this event,you swim one length of the pool,fasten a foam rescue tube around a manikin,and tow it back to the other end. Wagh,now the coach of the Indian team,is looking to prepare them as methodically as possible before they head to Adelaide. “We’ll have a camp in Kerala for the surf events,and one in Kolkata for the pool events,” says Wagh. “After that,we’re looking to reach Australia early so we can have an acclimatisation camp there. We’re putting in a concerted effort to win a minimum of two medals this time.”
India might not have a thriving presence in the world of lifesaving sports,but enough talent exists to meet Wagh’s target. And a Pune-ite may well hold the most realistic medal hopes. Gajanan Bhokare,who worked as a professional lifeguard in the Nande pool near Balgandharv before becoming a fitness trainer,specialises in Line Throw. This event requires Bhokare to throw a rope to his teammate in the pool and reel him to ‘safety’.
Partnering fellow Pune-ite Lalit Zope,Bhokare won silver in the Line Throw at the 2004 World Championships at Viareggio,Italy. This year,with Zope in retirement,Bhokare will team up with Mumbai’s Zuber Ghanchi. Despite the fact that he has only recently come out of a sabbatical from lifesaving,Bhokare is confident he can go one better than he did in 2004. I’m still the best at my event, he says. The world record for Line Throw is 9.7 seconds. In practice,I do 8.7.
Among the women,Visakhapatnam’s Amreen Malik holds out a certain amount of medal-winning potential. Amreen will take part in the 200m Super Lifesaver,which combines features of the Manikin Carry and the Manikin Tow.
You start with a 50m length,and then turn around,and pick up a manikin at the 25m mark, says Amreen. You then carry that to the starting line,where you put on fins and strap on a rescue tube before swimming another 50m. There,you put the rescue tube around a half-filled manikin and tow it back to the starting line.
Malik was part of the probables for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in the 100m backstroke,but an ankle injury six months before the event dashed her hopes of making the final squad.
I couldn’t really return to my old timings after coming back, says Amreen. And I was doing my engineering at the time,and studies became my priority.
Lifesaving,however,provided Amreen another sporting outlet. She had already had a taste of the sport,having won the overall title for women during the National Lifesaving Championships in 2006,and the inaugural South Asian Lifesaving Championships,at Hambantota in 2011,gave her another shot at international glory.
Pencilled in to participate in the Oceanwoman (an ocean event that covers a 1200m course that includes swimming leg,a rescue board leg,a surf-ski leg and a beach sprint),Malik discovered that there were going to be no other women competitors. The organisers had to club me together with the boys in the Oceanman, says Amreen. I ended up winning a bronze my first ever international medal.