Swimmer Sajan Prakash says India's preparations for 2028 Olympics must begin now
The scholarships from FINA has been a big blessing for Sajan in his preparations, but the swimmer is firm in his opinion that it's just not enough and wants more help from the government.
The scholarships from FINA has been a big blessing for Sajan in his preparations, but the swimmer wants more help from the government.
Sajan is making the best of use of the limited resources available at his disposal. His timings have improved and but he's still not there in terms of Olympic Qualifying Times.
Swimming offers as many as 34 medals in the Olympics, the second most after athletics, and India have been a perennial strugglers in the sport.
Sajan Prakash is consistently making big splashes in the pool. The 25-year-old swimmer from Kerala has been training under Spain's Miguel Lopez and national coach Pradeep Kumar in Thailand, on an International Swimming Federation (FINA) scholarship that he first received in 2016 post his participation in the 2016 Rio Olympics. The training in abroad has definitely reaped huge benefits for the swimmer.
At last year's Asian Games in Jakarta, Sajan became the first Indian to qualify for the 200m butterfly final after 32 years, and then set a national record time of 1:57.75 by finishing an impressive fifth in the event. He has since improved his timing in the 200m butterfly, his favourite event, at the senior nationals held last year at Pirappancode in his home state. He won five golds in the tournament, clinching the top prize in the 200m butterfly with a timing of 1:57.73.
No doubt the scholarships from FINA have been a big blessing for Sajan in his preparations, but the swimmer is firm in his opinion that it's just not enough and wants more help from the government.
"We need support. It's not that we have the scholarship so we don't need any support. If you go for competitions or abroad for training camps, if you want us to compete with the best and get something back from the competitions, we need more. Not only me, but many swimmers are spending from their own pockets," Sajan said to Firstpost.
Sajan's name doesn't feature in the sports ministry's Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS). The flagship program is from the government was launched to provide financial assistance to India's top athletes, who could win medals in the Olympics. TOPS has been designed to focus only on those athletes who can bring back medals in the Olympics and currently, the ministry has identified a total number of 67 athletes across sports. However, the list doesn't include any swimmers.
It's fair to say that India has a long way to go when it comes to winning medals in swimming at the world level. For Indian swimmers, qualifying for the final of an event is itself considered as an achievement. In Rio, the 200m butterfly event was won by the legendary Michael Phelps with a time of 1:53.36. At the Asian Games in Jakarta, Japan's Daiya Seto clinched the gold at 1:54.53. While the likes of Sajan, Virdhawal Khade and Srihari Nataraj have impressed a few with their performances in recent years, but they are still a long way behind in terms of winning medals at the big events.
Swimming offers as many as 34 medals in the Olympics, the second most after athletics, and India has been perennial strugglers in the sport. There is a huge dearth in terms of infrastructure, investment and ability to extract best from talents. Although there are signs of improvement like Sajan improving his timings or a talent like Srihari being spotted and encouraged, there's still plenty of work to do.
"Things have to improve. It's not enough. Swimming offers a lot of medals in Olympics, but you see the countries and much they are investing in the sport. In terms of camps and competitions and all. We have to see how we can gain medals in the long term. If you want to get something in 2028 Olympics, you need to start planning now. It's going to be a big challenge," Sajan said when asked if the federation and the government are doing enough.
And what about talent in the country? "There's a lot of talent, but they don't how to make the best use of it and they don't have much support," Sajan added.
Personally for Sajan, he's making the best of use of the limited resources available at his disposal. His timings have improved and but he's still not there in terms of Olympic Qualifying Times or 'A' time. He wants to make the cut to Tokyo Olympics with the A timing of 1:56.48.
"Everything is going well. After the Asian Games, senior nationals and the world championships (short course), I am now working on simple technical aspects. To see where I can cut down those 1.3 seconds. So yes, I'm confident that I will qualify for Olympics," Sajan said.
The competition level in India for swimming is not that high. Training alone is not enough for significant improvements in timings and that's why Sajan suggests that young swimmers should look at other prospects like competing in the United States' prestigious National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) events. A swimmer can not only access good training facilities but the experience will also be beneficial.
"We should definitely try different things. Getting that kind of experience in America is obviously good," Sajan said.
Sajan revealed that he wanted to train in America and take the NCAA route but the plan never really worked out.
"I tried the NCAA route, but somehow it didn't work. I finished high school in 2011 and you need to apply to a college within three years of that. And the funding was also a problem. I tried again in 2016, but it was already late."
Sajan's next big challenge is up against world's best swimmers at the FINA World Aquatics Championships, which is set to take place from 12-28 July in Gwangju, South Korea. Achieving the A timing for the qualification will be the obvious choice and then go on to prepare for the Olympics.
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