Shivani hopes to make mark

Shivani hopes to make mark

'I want to inspire youngsters'

Shivani hopes to make mark

It's been two weeks since the Swimming Federation of India named Shivani Kataria as the one of the two swimmers to represent India at the Rio Olympics. But speak to her and you can still sense the excitement in her.

"Well.. I don't know. An Olympian?.. (takes a long pause, checks her watch, looks around) It means a lot," she says, hoping that she hadn't made a fool of herself.

"Honestly I want to inspire young swimmers because the last female (Indian) swimmer at the Olympics was in 2004. But now the situation is different. I think by 2020 there will be a lot going to the Olympics," she adds, gathering her thoughts.

Just like Sajan Prakash, who is also Rio-bound, even Shivani was on her way back from the Hong Kong Circuit Championships when she was first informed about her selection for the Games.

"I was at the airport with Sajan when he got a text saying that we both have been selected (for Rio) and it was announced at the Junior Nationals. Frankly I was on top of the world. Just couldn't believe what the text read. Though I was not completely sure if I should believe it, deep down somehow I knew it was true," she explains.

Shivani's journey so far has been filled with such surprises. From getting into a pool for the first time as an eight-year-old at a summer camp in Gurgaon to being the lucky replacement for Maana Patel for the FINA scholarship in Thailand, Shivani has swum along the tide.

"I started swimming in a summer camp because my cousin. Later, I slowly started competing at district level and then State level and my interest grew. I was around 13-14 when I started taking it seriously," says the swimmer who started her journey at the Baba Ganganath Swimming Centre in the National Capital Region under the watchful eyes of RN Yadav.

Shivani has been under the FINA scholarship in Phuket for over a year and there is no doubt that her swimming has improved leaps and bounds. Shivani was one of the top performers at the South Asian Games (early this year) winning a gold and a silver in her freestyle races, apart from three gold medals in the relay segment.

"The move (to Phuket) has been really good. I have bettered the Indian 200M freestyle time, medals have kept coming and now I feel confident of doing well everytime I hit the pool," she says.

"The training has been very hard. We swam thrice a day, something I had never done before. It's like wake up, train, eat and sleep, nothing beyond that".

While at the Games, getting beyond the heats could be a huge task for Shivani, swimming alongside one of her idol Katie Ledecky in the 200 metres freestyle is something that is keeping her excited. "I don't want to have an unrealistic aim. It'll be very difficult to get into the top sixteen, but then what if I end up swimming alongside Katie in the heats itself?" exclaims Shivani as the smile on her face gorws wider and wider.