Advantage Karnataka, but the gap is narrowing

 The State has won every championship at the Junior level for the past decade. On paper, the defending champs once again start favourites in the five-day meet. Karnataka clinched the title last year in Bhopal with a whopping 570 points while Maharashtra took the second spot, mainly due to the exploits of Veerdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal.

The absence of the two ace swimmers, away in Europe for a training-cum-competition stint for the Commonwealth Games, will help Karnataka breathe easy this time.

But the worrying factor for the State swimmers will be to beat the scorching heat that touched 46 degree Celsius on Monday.

Apart from that, Karnataka also have absentee worries as Aaron D’Souza and Arhatha Magavi have decided to skip the meet. The duo was expected to spearhead the challenge here.

Aaron, who bettered one national mark and three meet marks at the State Championship earlier this month, and Arhatha, a triple gold medallist at the Senior National Championship in Hyderabad last November, want themselves to be in good shape for the inaugural Asian Youth Games in Singapore scheduled to start on June 29, just two days after the Jaipur meet concludes.

The title holders are lucky to have enough bench strength to replace Aaron and Arhatha. Karnataka’s hopes rest with Gagan, Aditya and Akash in Group I boys, while Prajwal KS and Srinivas MD could well be the cynosure in Group II.

Spearheaded by Sneha T, the girls look the best bet to grab a handful of medals. Madhavi Giri, Navya G Shenoy, Sushaka Pratap, (all Group I) and Prathima Kollali, Sneha, Bhoomi R Motwani (all Group II) are all capable of setting the pool afire.

As usual, Mahrashtra and Tamil Nadu will pose a strong challenge to Karnataka’s aspirations of retaining the overall title.

“We will surely miss Aaron and Arhatha, but we have good swimmers to cover up for their loss.

“If everything goes according to plan, we will retain the title,” said Karnataka swimming coach John Christopher on the eve of the championship.

The gap is closing rapidly, as was witnessed in the Sub-junior Nationals last month in Panaji where Karnataka finished third overall behind Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
This junior meet could sprang a surprise or two. Maharashtra swimmers Joshna Ansari, Gowri Desai, Kanchi Desai, Poorva Shetty and Rahul C have the wherewithal to spoil the champion’s party.

Also looking to make a mark will be emerging talents such as Goan Talasha Prabhu, Tamil Nadu swimmers Diwakar, Raghavi and Vemba, Gopinath of West Bengal and Jashandeep Singh of Punjab.

In water polo, which will be held at the Rajasthan University pool, the Karnataka girls, who won bronze in Bhopal, face a strong battle from title holders Maharashtra and Kerala. In the boys’ section, defending champions Kerala and Bengal could pose a big threat to the State’s progress.

Meanwhile, the change of venue has made life miserable for the swimmers. There is hardly any space to hold 400-odd competitors. Further, there is no warm-up pool.
It is learnt that there was water scarcity at the Sawai Mansingh pool, the original venue, forcing the organisers to shift the meet to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

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