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Explained: How Covid-19 infection risk can be reduced for swimmers as pools reopen

Overcrowding will spell ruin, and while pools, closed for all these months, may attempt to make up for lockdown losses, the temptation to allow more than the specified number will need to be resisted, even strictly legally enforced.

Written by Shivani Naik , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai | Updated: October 6, 2020 9:19:36 am
Newly inaugurated Swimming Pool in Sector 39 of Chandigarh on Tuesday, November 05 2019. Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh

India’s elite swimmers will now be able to train within the country and prepare to qualify for the Olympics. Earlier, two swimmers had been permitted to train in Dubai and will return by October 19, having experienced the protocols first hand, which could help India set down its own practical guidelines – starting from effective chlorination to how soon to push the top gear in training.

Why were India’s best swimmers training in Dubai for the past month?

While the Swimming Federation of India was trying for permissions in India, which came through in Unlock 5, India’s top swimmers were hamstrung as the pandemic raged on and authorities remained skeptical about opening pools to the larger population of recreational swimmers. While most other countries had opened up, they were not too keen on inviting foreign swimmers given the situation. UAE did open up visas for 80 countries, paving the way for 800m freestyle specialist Kushagra Rawat and ace back-stroker Srihari Nataraj to head to Dubai at a facility where India’s national coach Pradeep Kumar has a training stint with a local club at a state-of-the-art school pool. It was an asset in setting down protocols.

What were the pre-requisites of swimming pools operating in Dubai that can be followed in India?

Water maintenance is central to resuming training for elite swimmers in India. UAE’s government guidelines dictate that chlorine pH levels ought to be 7.4 / 7.6, for a 2 parts per million proportion of chlorine to water to be maintained at all times. Water temperatures ought to be regulated at 27-28 degrees Celsius. “Rules need to be followed point-by-point with no compromise. Pools should be scientifically and properly maintained, where well-maintained is the operative words. We tend to not follow rules in India and that could prove harmful. Effectiveness of chlorine levels wears off after a period of time. So that can’t be allowed to drop,” coach Pradeep says. Re-chlorinating regularly while checking on pH levels is most important.

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What are the risky areas?

Overcrowding will spell ruin, and while pools closed for all these months may attempt to make up for lockdown losses, the temptation to allow more than specified number will need to be resisted, even strictly legally enforced. Strict protocols for lane discipline – number of swimmers, the direction in which to swim, minimum distance to be maintained will need to be followed. For while the water will get disinfected, swimmers do come up for air and exhale.

“Restrict the number of people. Check athletes’ temperatures before they enter the pool. Sanitise pool after every use. Holding grills, ladders, change rooms need to be sanitised frequently. Showers must be avoided if possible,” he says, adding that protocols for before stepping into and after stepping out of the pool on land, can’t be emphasized more.

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Participants in a swimming pool in Punjab. (Express photo by Jasbir Malhi/File)

What protocol was followed in Dubai?

Coach Pradeep says rules were non-negotiable at the international school facility used by Indian swimmers to train. “Thermal tests were done to check for any symptoms. Even 0.01 rise in temperature saw swimmers kept in an isolation room and being re-tested with thermal scanners after 10 minutes,” he said. There were two levels of this thermal testing – one by school authorities and one by pool gatekeeping staff. Sanitisers were used freely and mask was compulsory till just before entering the pool.

What precautions should returning elite swimmers take in terms of their physical conditioning?

You never forget to swim, but elite swimmers sure lose the ‘feel.’ “It can happen with some swimmers that even after the 50th day, they don’t regain that catch, grip, resistance, pull-of-water rhythm smoothly. One part is rhythm, another is technique of the stroke. Some swimmers might have gained weight, which reduces feel too. You don’t get the distance in one stroke, fatigue sets in quick. Elite swimmers might be in some level of minimum fitness, but water conditioning will be back to square one. What you do outside can’t compensate for grip in the water. The biggest problem though will be chances of injury if you overwork. So either coaches or swimmers hurrying things can lead to other issues,” he says.

What about India’s top swimmers?

Someone like Kushagra Rawat (400m/800 freestyle) needs much more aerobic training and Srihari Nataraj (200 metres backstroke) will take longer to reach optimum fitness. Unlike a sprinter like Virdhawal Khade, who will find it quicker. Kushagra might be doing 20 times 100m freestyle with 70 seconds per lap in a normal season. But when starting, I’d give him 100 seconds, then 90 and build it gradually to bring the aerobic level up.

There are huge losses in aerobic conditioning, similar to a 400 metre/800 track runner, Pradeep explains. Cutting down on time is going to be a herculean task. “To shave off even one second from his timing, Sajan Prakash (India’s most versatile swimmer) needs to cut 0.04 per every 50-metre lap. It is tough because for a sprinter like Khade, even cutting 0.01 seconds is tough in his 50-metre event,” the coach explains.

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