Last year when Karnataka stepped out to regain their lost glory in the swimming arena, it went down to the last race of the meet.
While Maharashtra’s Veerdhawal Khade failed to secure the top spot in 100M freestyle, Malavika V showed no pressure to win her 800M freestyle gold as Karnataka held their nerves to once again lift the overall title.
A year on, Khade is not to be seen and so is Malavika, who has left for the US in search of academic excellence. But if you’re to take a stroll around the Veer Budhu Bhagat Aquatic Stadium here, you would still feel the sense of anticipation among the swimmers who are eager to hit the ground running as the 70th Glenmark Senior National Aquatic Championship gets underway from Saturday.
“Yes, with Malavika gone, four gold medals are gone,” said Karnataka coach V Padmanabha Rao, referring to the freestyler’s haul at the Rajkot meet.
“But I don’t think that should hit our performance. There are quality swimmers who have filled in for her and then we have our regulars, who I think will put up a good show,” he added.
Rao was talking about the likes of Arvind Mani, Likith SP, Mohammed Yaqoob Saleem, Damini K Gowda and Saloni Dalal who will lead the State’s challenge this time.
Arvind, an individual medley specialist, will take the pool for his 200M and 400M IM, 50M, 100M and 200M backstroke events, while Likith, who has flown down from South Africa – his new training base -- will accompany his senior in 200 IM and look to lay the marker in 50M and 100M breaststroke races.
Upcoming long distance freestylers Sanjay CJ, who was the top performer at the Junior Nationals earlier this year, and his club-mate Mohammed Yaqoob Saleem will be the other swimmers to watch out for.
However standing in their way to glory will be the established names of Indian swimming, who will look to use this meet as a proper tune-up to the Asian Swimming Championship, scheduled to be held in Japan next month.
Top swimmers like Sajan Prakash, Sandeep Sejwal and Saurabh Sangvekar, representing the Railways Sports Promotion Board (RSPB), are the big names to watch out for.
“This is probably the last meet we have before the one in Japan. So I’m sure that everyone wants to be at their best before the Asian meet,” said Sajan who will look to better his time in 200M butterfly.
In the women’s section, it looks like a two-way battle with Karnataka and Maharashtra all set reignite their rivalry.
While Mumbai’s Monique Gandhi will be eager to claim the four long-distance freestyle golds, something she lost out to Malavika last year, Damini will want to lead her bunch of talented swimmers with a commendable show in her butterfly events.
Outside of the two rivals, Gujarat’s Maana Patel – a three-time best female swimmer awardee at the senior nationals -- and Olympian Shivani Kataria will hope to leave a lasting mark at the meet.