Updated: August 20, 2018 10:59:41 am
On Sunday, Sajan Prakash became the first Indian swimmer in 32 years to qualify for the 200m butterfly final of the Asian Games. But as the 24-year-old from Idukki took the plunge at Jakarta’s GBK Aquatic Centre, his thoughts would have wandered to his home that has been washed away by floodwaters in Kerala, and the five members of his family who have been missing for the last three days.
Prakash couldn’t win a medal despite entering the final as the third-fastest qualifier. He is likely to have been distracted. But in finishing fifth in the eight-man final, he still set a national record, clocking 1 minute 57.75 seconds. The last time an Indian reached the final of the 200m butterfly at the Asian Games was Khazan Singh in 1986. (He won silver at Seoul.)
“He was calling me all day. He is very upset, and wasn’t able to focus on the race. If not for this, he would have won a medal,” Prakash’s mother Shantymol told The Indian Express Sunday evening.
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Prakash, who represented India at the 2016 Rio Olympics, lives in Neyveli near Puducherry with his mother. His maternal grandfather, uncle and three other family members, who live near the Cheruthony dam in Idukki, have been missing since Thursday. Shantymol had not told him this, fearing it would impact his performance.
“But someone at the Games Village told him. So he called me late Saturday night, demanding to know what had happened,” Shantymol said. “We have lost everything; our house, land… we aren’t able to trace our family.”
Shantymol said she hoped the family was safe at some shelter. But there has been no contact with them since a brief phone call on Thursday. “It lasted barely a minute, and I was told someone was driving them to a safer location. But before we could complete the conversation, the phone got disconnected, and I haven’t able able to get in touch with him since then,” Shantymol said. “It’s a remote area, no one can go there. There is no communication.”
Idukki is among the worst affected districts in the floods.
Not just Shantymol, Prakash’s peers and mentors, too, believe that if not for this news, he would’ve clocked 1 minute 55 seconds, and would likely have been in contention for a silver or bronze. Nisha Millet, an Arjuna Award winning swimmer who is now a coach, said Prakash had made some rapid progress in the last few years. He won a bronze at the Mare Nostrum meet in Monaco in June, which is considered to be a prestigious international swimming meet.
Prakash will have another shot at a medal on Monday in the 4x200m freestyle relay, and again on Wednesday in the 100 m butterfly. Shantymol hopes her son will be able to overcome the distraction. “I am trying to convince him to focus on his events. He has worked very hard for this, he shouldn’t be worrying about things that are not in our control,” she said.
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