This is the hardest I have pushed myself in training: India swimmer Srihari Nataraj

With his first Olympics looming on the horizon, the ace swimmer has amped up the intensity in training in water and on land
By Deepti Patwardhan

It is the detail that delivers, as Srihari Nataraj is finding out.

The ace Indian swimmer spent the last week analyzing every tiny detail of his craft with renowned sports scientist Dr. Genadijus Sokolovas, who has in the past worked with the like of Michael Phelps and Dara Torres. One of the things that Sokolovas figured was that Indian swimmers need a better 'beginning of the stroke' and to do that they need to use their body than rely on arm movement.

For Nataraj, and many at the national swimming camp who attended sessions with the sports scientist, Sokolovas’ visit has been a revelation.

“He helped me out with making sure I get the most out of my technique, most out of my strokes trying to make them as efficient as possible,” the 20-year-old told the Olympic Channel. “We talked about the underwater curl, the angle which I finish in and so many other things.”

“Basically, we can train and do everything, but at the end of the day the technique is going to matter a lot,” he added.

“I already notice a little difference and how it is a little smoother or how the body control is in the water. But everybody understands that it’s not a one day or one week project, he said it could take weeks, months. Having been in the sport for 15 years, I know that even putting something new into practice within months is also a quick progress. We spend years of our life to master just one stroke.”

Though Nataraj admits he’s not a man who likes change, he’s keen to put all these inputs into practice.

For the past year and more, the Indian has been trying to shave microseconds off his timing in the pool. Nataraj met the Olympic ‘B’ qualification mark in 100m backstroke with a national record of 54.69s at the FINA World Junior Championships in Budapest, Hungary in 2019. But he is 0.84 seconds off the Olympic ‘A’ qualification mark which will ensure him a place at the quadrennial event.

“The training that I’ve been doing is probably the hardest I have pushed myself and the hardest training I have gone through. Both in the gym and the pool,” said Nataraj.

“Not just swimming up and down anymore, we are trying to find those tiny details which will make that 0.8, 0.9 difference. We have been working in that one specific event.

“The time I train hasn’t increased at all. I still train about two hours in the morning, two hours in the evening and an hour and a half in the gym. The workouts I am doing are a lot more intense, a lot more quality. I’m trying to race almost every single day at my goal times.”

The lockdown was also tough on the swimmers as they lost a few months of training time. Swimming pools across India were shut which meant they couldn’t get into the water at all and had to train on land.

“I got back to training in August. It took me about 3-4 months for things to work out, so not being exhausted after training,” Nataraj said. “We lost so much during the lockdown; I didn’t realise that it would take so long to get back into shape.”

But there is a semblance of normalcy now and the domestic calendar is set to resume in March. Nataraj, whose last competitive meet was the 2019 SAFF Games, will return to action at the Karnataka state meet and the national swimming championships to be held in Rajkot from March 24 to 27.