There’s water aplenty at the Aquatic Complex at the Jain Heritage School in north Bangalore. Not just in the outdoor swimming pool but also from the skies above. The rain late in the afternoon leaves India’s Commonwealth Games (CWG) swimmers wondering if they should take a dip or stay in the changing room abutting the pool.
Swimmers Sandeep Sejwal and Virdhawal Khade exchange a look before joining other members of the team for stretching exercises. Their coach, Nihar Ameen, inspects the proceedings and doubles up as a weatherman, often glancing outside to check if the showers have stopped. He would want his wards to get maximum practice and stay in top shape, because the Games will demand hurricane speeds from his protégés.
Ameen is candid about the prospects of India, which has entered 20 swimmers in the competition. “We are going to have some of the best swimmers in the world competing, so we are looking at slim pickings in terms of medals,” he says.
Sejwal will have to cut his way past Christian Sprenger of Australia (50m breaststroke world record holder) and South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh, current 100m world record holder in men’s breaststroke. Khade will be up against Roland Schoeman of South Africa, the current 50m freestyle world record holder. These are just a couple of the big names in the water world. Don’t count out the surprises.
“Looking at the Commonwealth Games, I can say we have a good young team (mostly between the ages of 19 and 20) that is on a learning curve. Importantly, we have been in training in Europe and the team has been getting a lot of exposure internationally. Some of the swimmers are in the top 100 rankings of Fina (the Fédération Internationale de Natation). Mentally, we have to help them prepare for the big day, the big event, so we’ve been working on those aspects,” says Ameen.
Sejwal, who qualified for the breaststroke in the Beijing Olympic Games, cuts a quietly confident figure. He finished 38th in a field of 63 in the 100m breastroke with a time of 1:02.19 (a national record) and 36 among 52 in the 200m breaststroke with a time of 2:15.24, another national record (Sprenger has the world record timing of 2:07:31). He is the national record holder in all his three events—the 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke.
This year, he reached the finals of two events—50m and 200m breaststroke—at the French Open in Paris, which had some of the best in the world like Michael Phelps and Alain Bernard. “I have some good form going into the event, I am confident of doing well,” Sejwal says. Acclimatizing with some of the big names in the swimming world, he thinks, has helped him. “I am from Delhi, so there will be a good amount of crowd support. I am looking forward to that.”
Khade seconds those sentiments. At 15, he became the youngest Indian swimmer to qualify for the Olympics (Beijing 2008). At the same time, he was also the only Indian to qualify in three events (all freestyle) at the Olympics—50m (40th among 97 at 22.73 seconds. Schoeman’s world record is 20.30), 100m (42nd in 64) and 200m (48th in 57). “2009 was a good year for me as I had some good swims and my confidence has grown,” he says. He came up with medal-winning performances at the Asian Indoor Games and Asian Swimming Championships.
Now, it appears, the time is ripe for both Sejwal and Khade to get to the next level.