Karnataka look to flex muscles again

Over the years, whenever Karnataka have seen an exodus of talent due to reasons varying from academics to shift in allegiance, they have always had a bunch of ‘champions in waiting’ to see them through.

The State team will be hoping for something similar this time when they enter the Prakash Taran Pushkar Bhavan to defend their crown at the 71st Senior National Aquatic Championships, starting on Saturday.

While the long-serving backstroke champion Aravind M has moved on and will represent Services this time -- he was recruited by MEG early this year -- the return of freestyle specialist Malavika V is a big boost for Karnataka.

“Yes, a few guys have moved on, but that doesn’t mean that the quality in the side has gone down,” explained the State coach AC Jayarajan on the eve of the meet.

“If Aravind has moved on, then we have Srihari (Natraj) who has been in top form this season. And we are sure he’ll be the one to beat at this meet too.”

Jayarajan was talking about the 16-year-old backstroker who set the pool ablaze with a fine performance at the Junior National meet and then went on to lead India’s charge at the Asian Age-group Aquatics Championships last month in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Here, Srihari will be up against the Services duo of Aravind and Madhu PS in the 50M, 100M and 200M backstroke events.

The national meet will also see long distance freestyler Sanjay CJ make a comeback to competitive swimming after missing out for almost a year due to a shoulder injury.

Standing in Karnataka’s way will be the established names of Indian swimming. Top swimmers like Sajan Prakash (Kerala), Sandeep Sejwal (Railways) and Veerdhawal Khade (Maharashtra) are the big names to watch out for.

In the women’s section, Malavika, who was missing from the scene for a year after moving to the United States for higher studies, returns to the national competition and will be eager to continue from where she left two years ago. Malavika will compete in 400M, 800M and 1500M freestyle races. She will be joined by established names in Damini Gowda (50M, 100M, 200M butterfly) and Saloni Dalal (100M, 200M breaststroke).

Meanwhile, the rivalry between Karnataka and Maharashtra could lose its sheen with many quality swimmers from the western Indian state jumping ships this season.

Avantika Chavan and Aditi Dhumatkar have joined Indian Railways while Monique Gandhi has moved to Australia in search of academic excellence. And with Rayna Saldanha nursing a shoulder injury, it will be up to the likes of Trisha Karkhanis and Jyotsna Pansare lead Maharashtra’s charge.

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