Not much expected of lone Indian swimmer at Olympics

Not much expected of lone Indian swimmer at Olympics

Indian swimmers have never quite made a splash at the Olympics and it is not expected to be any different even in London when the country's lone entry Gagan A P Ulalmath enters the fray after getting a lucky break due to FINA's strange 'Universality' quota.

Gagan was handed a berth in men's 1,500m freestyle event by the International Swimming Federation (FINA) under the 'Universality' quota after none of the country's top swimmers could make the cut under the normal qualifying route.

The surprise development was a cause of ecstasy for young Gagan though it shut the door on other established swimmers -- Viradhwal Khade (100m freestyle), Sandeep Sejwal (100m and 200m breaststroke), Aaron d'Souza (200m freestyle) and Saurabh Sangvekar (1500m freestyle).

Under the 'Universality' quota, a country which will be unrepresented in the Olympics, can get a berth each in men's and women's categories but the swimmer to be picked should have taken part in the last World Championships.

The 20-year-old Karnataka swimmer Gagan competed in the World Championships last year in Shanghai in 800m freestyle, clocking 8:21.23secs. He will take part in 1500m freestyle in London.

Viradhwal, Sandeep, Aaron and Sangvekar were ineligible to be considered for 'Universality' quota even though they had crossed the Olympic Selection Timing (OST). Their OST qualification rather made them ineligible for being considered under 'Universality' quota.

Only those swimmers who crossed Olympic Qualification Timing get automatic berth while FINA chooses the best-timers from among OST swimmers for the remaining slots.

Viradhwal, Sandeep, Aaron and Sangvekar crossed the OST but since they are at the lower rungs of the long list, they failed to make it to the Olympics as FINA picked the best timers from the OST swimmers.

The strange rule gave India a berth in swimming but it resulted in a rather unknown swimmer, who neither has a OQT or OST, making it to the Olympics while others who at least have OST were rendered ineligible.

"These rules were introduced a few years back and we have to follow them. It's good that we get at least one swimmer participation. Gagan will get good exposure from the Olympics," Swimming Federation of India chief Virendra Nanavati said.

Gagan is an up and coming swimmer with medals at the national and Asian level age group competitions but is expected to end his Olympic campaign at the heats itself, just like the four swimmers who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The young Bangalore swimmer set the pool on fire during the 2011 National Games in Jharkhand, winning six gold medals for Karnataka. He also made it to the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2009.

But his personal best of 15:59.33 sec in 1500m freestyle, which he set at the AASF Age Group Championships in Palembang, Indonesia, last year does not figure among top 300 of FINA world rankings.

Gagan, however, says that destiny has given him a chance to chase a piece of history.
"It's my destiny that I should compete at the Olympics at such a young age. I am sorry for those who have not qualified but I am determined to do my best and improved upon my personal best in the Olympics," he said.

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