Karnataka swimmers set to rule again

Khades presence will strengthen hosts Maharashtras challenge

A clutch of exciting and promising youngsters and a bunch of experienced swimmers will make Karnataka a formidable force in the 66th Senior National Aquatic Championships as the champion side look to extend their reign for another year at the Balewadi Sports Complex.

The script hasn’t changed for the past two decades or so since the State swimmers’ won the overall crown in Thrissur in 1991. And in the last edition, they garnered 327 points to outsmart familiar foes Maharashtra by a massive 151 points. A staggering 23 gold, 11 silver and 9 bronze medals underlined Karnataka’s supremacy in Ranchi.

Karnataka’s strength lies in their ability to produce top class swimmers who are capable of carrying forward the legacy of their predecessors. One such swimmer, Olympian Rehan Poncha, will be a notable absentee this year. The 26-year-old Poncha, who has been the backbone of Karnataka swimming for more than a decade, opted to take a break from the sport. “The only time I missed the senior nationals in the last decade was in 2006 and that was due to the Doha Asian Games. I am taking a break now but I will be back soon,”
said Poncha, who has competed in 12 Senior Nationals beginning from 1999.

Though Karnataka will miss the services of Poncha, the defending champions’ bench strength should help them to overcome the challenges thrown by their rivals, especially from Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

Karnataka’s chances here revolve mostly around last year’s best male swimmer Aaron D’Souza and Saurabh Sangvekar, who claimed the top honours in the Junior Nationals in Bhopal. “We have a very strong side. So we are confident of winning the title again,” said Aaron.

Aaron targets the 100M and 200M freestyle, 200M butterfly, 200 individual medley and 50 backstroke titles, besides three relays, while Saurabh will be focusing on freestyle events — 100M, 200M, 400M, 800M and 1500M. Defending champion Saurabh’s battle for supremacy in the most demanding 1500 freestyle with team-mate Gagan AP, who competed in the London Olympics, and Police’s Mandar A Divase could offer a mouth-watering race. Breaststrokers Arvind M and teenage prodigy Likith SP will have their task cut out with the duo up against Olympian Sandeep Sejwal in their events while Virdhawal Khade of Maharashtra -- returning after missing the last edition -- will be the favourite to claim the sprint races in the freestyle and butterfly segments. In backstroke events, it will be a three-way battle between the Karnataka duo of Rohit R Havaldar and Pranam B and Tamil Nadu’s MB Balakrishnan.

In the women’s section, Pooja R Alva (50M, 100M and 200M butterfly and 200M and 400M individual medleys), freestyler Surabhi Tipre — who will have to face tough challenge from Richa Mishra — butterfly specialist Damini K Gowda and Malavika V (50M, 200M freestyle) form a potent force for Karnataka.

State women swimmers will also have to tackle Tamil Nadu breaststrokers M Raghavi and AV Jayaveena, Delhi’s Priyanka Priyadarshini and Maharashtra’s Poorva Shetye.
Maharashtra’s strength lies in their women swimmers with teenagers Aditi Dhumkar, Arti Ghorpade, Monick Gandhi and Aakanksha Vora completing a talented line-up capable of making it big on their day.

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