Focused on scaling bigger heights

Focused on scaling bigger heights

Focused on scaling bigger heights

He would walk on the pool deck with headphones on and eyes focussed. He says he picked it up from the Olympics, watching his idols Michael Phelps and Rayan Lochte on the screen. It’s no surprise that Srihari Natraj too has developed the knack of ‘being in the zone’.

“I don’t like talking to anyone before my race,” he says when questioned about his new found habit. “When we are in the hold-up area, guys usually walk in and start talking. That’s very irritating. I just want to be focused on the race. Then I saw guys walk out with headphone at the Olympics last year and I thought, let’s try this. I have found it to be easier. It helps me be in my zone.”

It’s not just the style that the 16-year-old has copied from the big names. The Karnataka swimmer has been making waves in Indian swimming for sometime now. While he has always been among the top swimmers in his age-group in the country, it’s at the recently concluded Junior National Aquatic Championships that Srihari came to the fore. He was in blistering form, winning medals at will in record times and even setting the best timing recorded by an Indian in two of his events. He completed a clean sweep of the backstroke events in Group I.

But then, the young man isn’t much impressed by what he has achieved. “Overall it looks good. But I am not satisfied with my timings in two events — the 100M backstroke and 50M freestyle,” he says. “Going into the meet I knew I could do whatever I managed, so I wasn’t surprised. But the target was to clock ‘India best’ timings in three races and win the 100M freestyle. But then the freestyle gold didn’t happen and I managed only two ‘India best’ timings. I still have a lot to do.”

Though it wasn’t up to the mark according to his own standards, Srihari’s performance has seen a sea change this season. The manner in which he swam in Pune was a testimony to the hard work that went behind shaping this champion. “This year, the training has gone a notch higher,” he says.

“My coaches have put in extra effort to get me to where I am now. And also my strength and conditioning coach xx has put extra time into me and ensured that I remain injury free and fit.”

Srihari was two years old when his mother decided to let him enjoy the water. He thinks since he was very mischievous, she thought he would be better in water. “I think that’s how it started,” he shares. “My brother, Balaji, used to swim. So my mom had to take him to the pool. She would carry me too. I think it’s because my mom thought I would be less of a headache if I was in water, she put me into the pool when I was around two years old.”

From enjoying water at two to winning his first medal at an inter-school meet as a five-year-old to being named the best swimmer at the Sub-junior National meet when he was 10, one person who’s seen this young champion grow is the head coach at the Global Swim Centre, Jairaj AC. And according to the coach the one thing that stands out about him is his determination. “No doubt about that. If he decides he wants to achieve something he won’t stop until he achieves it,” says Jairaj.

“I have been seeing him since he was two. His hard work and determination hasn’t changed since then. Every session you will see Srihari giving that extra bit to be better or spending extra time until he perfects his strokes.”

While Srihari has enjoyed the best of times in the pool, he has also ensured that his academics aren’t affected by it. Though he skips school to spend more time in the pool, Srihari has ensured that he does well in the exams and keeps the academy side up to the mark.

“I need to thank my parents for being really supportive on this front. There have been times when I have missed school for 7-8 months to prepare for a meet. But all they ever asked me was about my performance in the exams. They wanted me to know what’s happening there even if I didn’t go. I am thankful that they have been supportive and I think I do repay their trust by doing well at both ends,” explains Srihari who passed out from the Jain Heritage School this year.

Away from the pool and his books, Srihari is like any other teenager. He is a self-confessed Barcelona fan, idolises Lionel Messi and loves his Rubik's cube. “It’s infectious, the Rubik’s cube. Football is another sport I love. I do end up playing it too,” he states.

Though the 2020 Olympics is the biggest target for this rising talent, Srihari wants to ensure that he takes one step at a time. And the 9th Asian Age-group meet in Tashkent, Uzbekistan later this year is his first target. “Aim is to better my records that I set last week and do a clean sweep of the backstroke events there,” he states.

“Next year we have the Asian Games. I am sure if I do improve the way I have so far, I can win a medal there. And then the 2020 Olympics. People talk about qualifying for the Games, but for me, I am looking at swimming in the final at the Tokyo Games.”

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