Karnataka look to retain title

M'rashtra will be chief rivals

Karnataka look to retain title

Perched at the summit ever since their ascendency in 1993, mighty Karnataka will once again start title favourites when the 40th Junior National Aquatics Championship kicks off here on Wednesday.

While for the longest period of their 20-year reign they’ve been hardly challenged, often emerging runaway victors, Karnataka will face a stiff task this time around at the Gachibowli Stadium. 

Expectedly their main challenge will come from long-time rivals Maharashtra, who after tasting defeat year after year will finally be hoping to cross the line and break Karnataka’s monopoly that has continued unabated even at the senior level.

However, accomplishing that won’t be easy with aspiring swimmers from Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Delhi too keen on making an impact at an event where talents are spotted and groomed for the future. Last year in Chennai, Karnataka were pushed hard by these States but their ability to rise to the occasion and perform well as a team helped them emerge champions once again in overwhelming fashion.

Apart from winning the better share of gold on offer, what really swelled Karnataka’s points tally was nailing the silver and bronze medals in races where they were not a domimant force. And’s that exactly what they would be aiming again as the boys play the lead role with the girls providing an able support cast.

Talented breaststroker SP Likith, who pocketed four individual gold in National record timings to be adjudged the best swimmer in Group II in the last edition, will be shouldering the bulk of burden in Group I now and his form will be crucial to Karnataka’s chances.

Karnataka also have another four potential medal winners in Arvind M (individual medley, backstroke), Pranam B (backstroke), Mitesh M Kunte (distance freestyle) and Rakshit U Shetty (sprint freestyle and butterfly). While the boys offer plenty of promise, the girls’ department lacks similar strength with much of the hopes resting on the talented duo of Malavika V (freestyle and individual medley; Group I) and Damini K Gowda (butterfly and backstroke; Group II). Tulasi R Harista and K Harishree J Rai can spring a surprise or two that could augur well.

Maharashtra don’t boast of a strong squad and they would be relying more on team effort to wrest the crown from Karnataka. Ishaan Jaffer (freestyle and individual medley; Group II), Vedant Rao (freestyle; Group I), last year’s Group I winner Akanksha Vohra (freestyle and individual medley) and Monique Gandhi (freestyle and breaststroke) will be their main hopes.

Apart from the battle for overall supremacy, there are also some budding individual talents one needs to watch out for. Gujarat’s Neil Contractor has been in sparkling form in the last couple of years, even bagging individual honours in the Group I category in previous championships.

The young AV Jayaveena of Tamil Nadu could cause a ripple or two. Daughter of Tamil film actor Vijay, the 15-year-old was the youngest medal winner in swimming at the 2011 National Games in Ranchi and she has never looked back ever since. At last year’s meet, she bagged the best swimmer honour in Group II and topping Group I this time will be high on her mind.

Heavy rains played a dampener at the Sub-Junior Nationals in Panaji last month and rains, albeit on a lesser scale, are forecast in Hyderabad too. Hopefully, the swimmers end up making a bigger splash in the five-day meet.

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