Can Indian swimming uncover a future Michael Phelps?
As the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, Michael Phelps is an icon of the sport of swimming.
The idea of finding an Indian equivalent appears a far-fetched notion at present, with the country restricted to only a handful of competitors under the universality quota since the 2000 Games in Sydney.
However, Indian sports minister Kiren Rijiju is keen to add fresh impetus to the sport.
So perhaps a 'Mumbai Missile' or 'Delhi Dart' who can emulate the feats of 'Baltimore Bullet' Phelps may not be such a distant dream after all.
Minister Rijiju hopeful of a turnaround
Addressing swimming coaches in an online knowledge enhancement workshop, the minister insisted that the nation will need world-class swimmers to help take India to the next level at the Olympics. This primarily because of the number of medals up for grabs in the discipline.
“Historically, the top countries in the Olympics have bagged a large number of medals in swimming,” he said.
“In the last five Olympics USA has won about 31 per cent of their total medals in swimming. There is a great opportunity for any country because of the sheer number of events that take place in aquatics.”
Swimmers like Sajan Prakash, Virdhawal Khade, Srihari Nataraj and Kushagra Rawat are still eyeing to clock the ‘A’ cut (qualifying time) for the Olympics. But with their chances of dipping below the required time looking slim, the minister urged that the swimming fraternity should look at Los Angeles 2028 as a possible target.
“I don’t see any reason why India should lag behind. In the 2021 Olympics, we do not have the strength to win medals in swimming, but we can start preparing for the 2028 Olympics,” he stressed.
“I urge the Swimming Federation to make a realistic roadmap listing out the need for coaches, infrastructure and training facilities.
“Once the lockdown is lifted and we are successful in our fight against COVID-19, I would like to meet prominent coaches and swimmers of the country and understand from them what we need to make a mark in swimming,” promised the sports minister.
Scope for corporate funding
While investment has been a significant drawback for swimming in India, the past few years have seen corporate companies looking towards helping the elite swimmers in the country pushing their limits.
However, if the Dronacharya awardee Nihar Ameen is to be believed, swimming has a lot more support.
“Funding is another big issue. The kids who come to us (coaches) have to pay for everything. And that’s a big amount,” he was quoted as saying by Deccan Herald.
Nihar Ameen is one of the finest coaches that Indian swimming has seen over the past few decades. The Bengaluru-based coach has produced Asian Games medallists like Virdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal in the past.
Other Asian countries have managed to make major breakthroughs in swimming in recent years.
Perhaps the best example of all was Joseph Schooling, who claimed Singapore's first Olympic gold in swimming with his victory in the 100m butterfly at Rio 2016.
Who was one of those he beat to clinch his historic medal?
None other than Michael Phelps.