Eyeing a splash at Tokyo, Indian swimmers to train in Dubai

The SAI has arranged for three top Indian swimmers to train at Dubai’s Aqua Nation Swimming Academy for 60 days.

By Utathya Nag

Three of India’s top swimmers, Virdhawal Khade, Srihari Nataraj and Kushagra Rawat, will travel to Dubai for a two-month-long training starting September, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) said on Saturday.

The Olympic-hopeful Indian trio will be training at Dubai’s Aqua Nation Swimming Academy under the supervision of coach AC Jairaj in a bid to boost their chances of participating in the Tokyo Olympics next year.

The decision comes as a much-needed step to help Indian swimmers resume training after a long COVID-enforced hiatus. While training facilities for other sports have gradually started opening up post the lockdown, access to swimming pools remain prohibited in India till August 31.

Indian swimmer Virdhawal Khade will join fellow Olympic hopefuls Srihari Nataraj and Kushagra Rawat for training in Dubai

“This decision was taken in lieu of the current prevailing situation as swimming pools in India are not yet accessible as a safety measure due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the SAI said.

Much-needed for Indian swimmers

Khade (50m freestyle), Nataraj (100m backstroke) and Rawat (400m freestyle) are three of the six Indian swimmers who have already secured the lower B qualification mark or Olympic Selection Time (OST) for the upcoming Olympics.

The B mark, as opposed to A mark holders, doesn’t confirm automatic qualification to next year’s Summer Games but puts them in the running if the total quota of swimmers is not reached by the end of the qualification period.

Three other swimmers Sajan Prakash (200m butterfly) and 800m freestyle duo of Aryan Makhija and Advait Page have also achieved the B mark. Prakash has already started his training in Phuket, Thailand, while Makhija and Page began their practice in the US earlier this month.

Based out of India, resumption of proper training was becoming a challenge for Khade, Nataraj and Rawat – one the Dubai training camp seeks to address.

SAI believes that the Dubai training will allow athletes to train and improve their timing to Olympic Qualification mark - A Time.

Nataraj welcomed the move. “I thank SAI and the Swimming Federation of India for their support and approval.,” he said. “I am glad that this happened. 

“I just hope the youngsters and other swimmers who were initially in the (probables) list also get a chance to get back to the pool.

“I have never been out of the pool for so long. I don’t know how it is going to affect me once I get into the pool. But I should get back to shape in a month and a half,” Nataraj added.

The 19-year-old Nataraj breached the 100m backstroke B qualification mark (55.47 seconds), with a national record of 54.69 seconds last year but needs to trim it down to 53.85 seconds to meet the A mark or the Olympic Qualifying Time (OQT).