Karnataka face stiff challenge

Maharashtra and Railways hope to dethrone depleted champions

Karnataka face stiff challenge

Powerhouse Karnataka will face a stiff challenge as they seek to extend their 23-year-old reign when the 68th Senior National Aquatic Championship kicks off here on Wednesday.

Unlike old times when arch-rivals Maharashtra, Services and Railways were forced to battle for the second spot as Karnataka set about raking in one championship after another, a depleted squad will be lining up for the defending champs this year at the Subhas Sarobar pool.

A breeding ground for talent and a training centre for some of the top swimmers in the country, Karnataka has been hit by an exodus of talent, denting their title chances. 

Talented Saurabh Sangvekar, a huge contributor last year at Thiruvananthapuram, has chosen to swim for Maharashtra -- just like long distance specialist Rohit Havaldar -- while sure-shot medal winners Sajjan Prakash and Arjun JP have been roped in by Railways.

Not just medal winners but swimmers who secured Karnataka vital points are also missing in action due to various reasons and with Maharashtra losing out only narrowly last time, a change in guard looms large. 

Having said that, Karnataka have fought similar battles successfully during their long reign and they do possess a talented bunch who can keep the rivals at bay.

Leading Karnataka’s charge will be Arvind M who will be competing in the 200M and 400M individual medleys as well 50M and 100M backstroke.

Rakshith Shetty will be vying for supremacy in 50M and 100M butterfly and 50M and 100M freestyle races while breasstroker Likith SP will participate in three individual events. 

Teenager Md Yaqoob Saleem, who has been making steady progress over the years, has the potential to cause a surprise as he bids for gold in 200M, 400M, 800M and 1500M freestyle events.

Damini K Gowda and Malavika V are the key names in the women’s section with the former taking part in five events -- 100M and 200M backstroke, 100M and 200M butterfly and 200M IM -- and the latter leading the charge in the 100M, 200M, 800 and 1500M freestyle.

This event will also see the return of 2010 Asian Games bronze medallist Virdhawal Khade.

The Kohlapur lad, who has been out of action since the 2013 World Championships to focus on his career as a Tahsildar with the Maharashtra government, returns to pool with aim of making the cut for the 2015 Worlds in Kazan, Russia.

With this Nationals serving as a qualifying event, Khade, although still not in the shape of old, can at least use it as preliminary test before he attempts to reach the qualifying mark. The 6’3’’ tall Khade will be competing in the 50M freestyle and 50M butterfly.

Khade’s training partner Sandeep Sejwal too will attempt to reach the qualifying mark.

Having won a 50M breaststroke bronze medal at the Incheon Asian Games, Sejwal will also be racing in three other events here -- 100M and 200M breaststroke and 200 individual medley.

Another swimmer to watch out for is Maana Patel.

The teenager has emerged as one of the brightest talents in the country with record-breaking performances over the last two editions and the Gujarati will eyeing an encore.

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