It’s all about self-belief for Kushagra

It’s all about self-belief for Kushagra


Kushagra Rawat, 20 years old, dished out a fine display in the just-concluded 10th Asian Group Swimming Championships, bagging five gold medals. DH PHOTO/ SRIKANTA SHARMA R

Kushagra Rawat swims over 70km every week. Pain is always just a few laps away. "You feel the pain, you have to be mentally prepared for it," Kushagra says.

And while training, lap after lap in the pool, he counts his strokes. "You have to calculate strokes in practice for every 50 metres to get the pacing right in the competition. So you get the idea of how you're going in terms of stroke count," he says.

Mathematics on the edge. But it's a life the 20-year-old has eagerly accepted to fuel his dream to be at the Olympics.

As things stand Rawat has made the B qualification time in the 800m freestyle event for the Tokyo Olympics. His personal best of 8:07.99, which he clocked at Thailand Age Group Championship, means he is under the Olympic B standard of 8:08.54.

But the presence of Advait Page, India's premier long-distance swimmer, means there is a lot more work to be done for Kushagra.

Page, who is currently training in the United States, holds the national record for the 800m freestyle with 8:00.76, over seven seconds faster.

But the New Delhi swimmer, whose father was a footballer for state and SBI, has taken it in his stride. He is good friends with Page and is hoping the friendly rivalry between the two can be beneficial for all parties.

So much so that he wishes Page was in Bengaluru for the Asian Age Group Swimming Championships where he cleaned up the freestyle events, ending with five gold medals and the individual championship.

"I wish Aryan (Nehra) or Advait were here. When you get competition you go much faster than you expect," Kushagra says.

"In 800m he is seven seconds faster than me. That is a lot of motivation. Every time we race each other, we always push each other in order to get our personal best. There is a healthy competition. We all respect each other, we are good friends but inside the pool, we are enemies.

"I love racing against him. When I race against Advait, I try to stay with him or go ahead of him. He does negative splits (gives faster times in the later laps). In 800m, I try to take the lead in the first 400 because I know he does negative splits which I can't do.

“I talk to him every day. We share memes and talk about fun stuff. We talk about swimming as well. He is a good friend. Whenever anyone of us does a bad timing, we always motivate each other."

National team coach Pradeep Kumar believes this competition could prove to be the difference for a country who has never clocked the A qualification mark in swimming for the Olympic Games.

"It's all about how they push each other to get better, the competition between them is key. Kushagra dropped 10 seconds (in the past 12 months), you can do that in distance swimming. Because even if you cut half a second in one lap, it adds up by the time you do the 16 laps, it's a big number cut," says the coach.

But for Kushagra, his focus also lies in the 400m freestyle. He did his personal best of 3:55.81 in the Asian meet and has his eyes set on the national mark of 3:54.93 held by his idol Sajan Prakash. The Olympic A qualification time is 3:46.78. Kushagra's personal best remains below the B qualification time of 3:53.58. But his coach Partha Majumdar is confident he can reach the levels based on his progress.

"Our job is to see how close Kushagra can go to that (A cut) time. We have to work on his stroke efficiency and we are also planning to take him to high altitude training as well," says the SAI Glenmark National Swimming Academy coach.

"In the 2018 Senior Nationals in the 800 freestyle, he got 8:16, his previous best was 8:26. Khelo India he got 8:14. It was 8:11 in Malaysia and 8:07 in Thailand," the coach reels off Kushagra’s improvement.

"Our plan is to give him a rest and then we're going into heavy training for three months. If you see his senior nationals or this meet, he has not done an outstanding job in 800 freestyle but his 1500m has improved because we are working on his aerobic capacity. That's what we call buffering so that he is physically better, we are going to push him through. Another thing we are working on is pacing sense and technique. We have to polish it more," he says about the plan ahead.

Kushagra too, is no less confident. "Believe in your training but believe more in your strength of mind because mind is the strongest thing which will push you harder and harder," he says.

From entering the pool to help with his asthma as a child, following in the footsteps of his sister in the pool to the brink of Olympics.

It's all about belief!

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