– By Aparajita Upadhyay
Top Indian swimmers Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj may have had an underwhelming Tokyo Olympics but the duo feels that experience gained would help them in future events as they train their sights on a podium finish at next year’s Commonwealth and Asian Games.
Prakash wrote a new chapter in the history of Indian swimming by becoming the first swimmer from the country to qualify for the Olympics by breaching the ‘A’ standard time at a qualifying meet in Rome on June 26. A day later, Nataraj replicated the feat to seal his berth for the Tokyo Games.
Both swimmers consistently shaved off times to achieve the elusive A mark in their respective events.
However, they couldn’t repeat their performance in Tokyo, failing to qualify for the semifinals. Nataraj clocked 54.31s to finish 27th overall in 100m backstroke, while Prakash managed 1:57.22 in the 200m butterfly event to be ranked 24th among 38 swimmers.
The two weren’t even able to match their personal bests, which they had clocked a few weeks earlier.
“I didn’t have enough time to compete in the Olympics after Italy. We only had three weeks to start again. If I had three months it would have been better performance,” Prakash told PTI.
“I already tapered to the maximum for the qualification meet, went all out and then I had to come back again and start with the aerobic work, build it up and then reduce till the competition day. It needs at least six weeks time,” Prakash added.
Tapering refers to the practice of reducing training volume while increasing rest in order to prepare one’s body to achieve the best times at important meets.
“I tapered for a good two-two-and-a-half-weeks for Rome. After that I had to re-train to get my base back and that causes fatigue. I require a lot of tapering, we had only three after Rome. I didn’t have time to train and re-taper,” Nataraj told PTI.
“I prepared my best, tried to return into training and re-peak within 3 weeks after Rome but it seemed quite hard,” he added.
But that’s not to say that the two were satisfied with their performance, especially Nataraj. Had the Bengaluru swimmer replicated his personal best, he would have made it to the semifinals.
“It was disappointing but I remember I was so exhausted after the race that I couldn’t even stand. I struggled to walk. It was just pain,” Nataraj said.
It has been a tough one year for the both the swimmers, while Prakash struggled with a slipped disc, Nataraj, who trains in Bengaluru, grappled with inconsistent training periods as swimming pools were shut in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To add to the 20-year-old’s woes he also suffered an injury when he resumed training.
“Absolutely (disappointed), I was expecting to go faster but I just didn’t happen. With the injury and coming back from it to qualify in such less time, it was a mess,” said Prakash, who will now undergo a two-week Ayurvedic treatment for his neck issue.
Nataraj was also not happy with his training module going into the mega event.
“I wasn’t coming off the best training cycle, my fitness was low. The load wasn’t as well distributed. I had to work on my capacity, base, threshold, opening and closing speed, technique, everything had to be done in a short span and also not overload because I was coming off an injury,” Nataraj explained.
The Olympics taught both swimmers valuable lessons and the duo plans to use the experience at future events.
“Standing there on the block made me realise a lot of things. Getting close to the world standard with the A time and this experience will be very helpful for me in the future, moving towards the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and the Worlds and maybe the next Olympics,” Prakash said.
“I knew what went wrong. But more than the swim, I’ve learnt how to prepare myself before, after the swim, during the meet. How to work on my fitness, recovery, what I eat,” Nataraj said.
“My main target now are the Commonwealth and Asian Games. Hope to get 2-3 medals at these two events,” he added.