Olympics in sight, Sajan Prakash, Srihari Nataraj hope to make a splash at Uzbekistan Open swimming

Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj have achieved the B standard so far and will eye direct Olympic qualification.

By Naveen Peter

Indian swimmers Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj will be in action at the Uzbekistan Open swimming championships, an Olympic qualifier, in Tashkent from April 12-17.

The two are a part of a 13-member Indian squad which includes the national backstroke record holder Manna Patel, 2016 Rio Olympian Shivani Kataria, one of India’s promising breaststrokers Likhit SP, among others.

The team is accompanied by Dronacharya awardee coaches Pradeep Kumar and Nihar Ameen, and former Asian Games medallist turned coach, Sandeep Sejwal.

This will be the first international meet, accredited by the international swimming federation (FINA), for Indian swimmers since the lockdown in March last year.

Both Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj have managed to clock the Olympic Selection Times (OST) -- B standard -- in their respective pet events. The B standard will only allow swimmers at the Olympics if the total quota is not filled at the end of the qualification period on June 27.

Only the Olympic Qualifying Time (OQT) -- ‘A standard’ -- ensures direct participation at the Summer Games. No Indian has ever achieved the A standard yet.

Sajan Prakash, who trains under Pradeep Kumar in Dubai, was in action at the Lativian Open last month where the Rio Olympian won the 200m butterfly with a timing of 1:59.31. This helped him clock the B cut for the Tokyo Games. The A standard is 1:56.48.

Srihari Nataraj, meanwhile, competed at the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) All-India Invitational Swimming Competition last week. The Bengaluru swimmer won the 50m backstroke title in 25.46 seconds.

The 20-year-old Nataraj made the B cut in the 100m backstroke by clocking 54.69 seconds at the 2019 FINA World Junior Swimming Championships. The A cut is set at 53.85 seconds.

The Indian swimmers’ Olympic preparations have been hit due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in India and the resultant restrictions that have forced the swimming pools, including the training centres, to be shut.

While the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) has tried its bit to ensure that the swimmers return to the pool at the earliest, the lack of competitions has hampered their progress.

Monal Chokshi, SFI secretary general, hoped that the Tashkent trip would come in handy for the Indian swimmers.

“This meet in Uzbekistan is of significance and SFI with the support of the government is working on all such opportunities for the Olympic hopefuls and also keeping in consideration the probables for the upcoming Asian Games in 2022,” Chokshi said.

“The Indian squad for this international meet is in good form and we are expecting some good results. Both Sajan and Srihari have once again broken the B qualification in their early season meets after the lockdown, they will be expecting to go much faster at this championship in Tashkent.”

Indian swimming team for Uzbekistan Open Swimming Championships 2021

Senior

Men: Srihari Nataraj (50m, 100m backstroke), Sajan Prakash (200m butterfly, 200m, 400m freestyle), Adhithya D (50m, 100m butterfly), Likhit SP (50m, 100m breaststroke), Dhanush S (50m, 100m breaststroke), Anand AS (50m, 100m freestyle)

Women: Maana Patel (50m, 100m backstroke), Divya Sathija (50m, 100m butterfly), Shivani Kataria (50m, 100m, 200m freestyle), Chahat Arora (50m, 100m breaststroke)

Junior

Boys: Tanish Mathew (50m, 100m, 200m freestyle, 50m, 100m, 200m butterfly)

Girls: Kenisha Gupta (50m, 100m, 200m freestyle), Suvana Bhaskar (50m, 100m, 200m backstroke)