Karnataka favourites to retain crown

Karnataka favourites to retain crown

Srihari Nataraj

Defending champions Karnataka will once again count on their star swimmers to step up as they look to keep the trophy when the 73rd Senior National Aquatic Championships kickstarts at the Prakash Taran Pushkar Bhavan here on Saturday.

The fact that this meet is in the Olympic qualification bracket adds more to this year’s event.

Karnataka had amassed 10 gold, 11 silver and seven bronze medals at last year’s event to take the top spot in the table. Led by Srihari Nataraj and boasting of talents like of Likith SP, Khushi Dinesh, Saloni Dalal and Damini K Gowda, Karnataka are favourites to retain their crown.

Srihari and freestyle specialist Khushi took part in the recently concluded FINA World Junior Swimming Championship in Budapest and with recovery time in short supply for them, it will be a hard task.

“I’m just swimming,” said Srihari. “Few best times maybe. 100m backstroke, I’m only 0.84 seconds behind the Olympics A qualification mark so I’ll take that very seriously,” added the BSRC trainee.

The 18-year-old, who holds the national record for 50, 100 and 200m backstroke, clocked 54.69 at the junior world championship. The ‘A’ qualification time stands at 53.85.  

Meanwhile, breaststroker Likith, who trains at the Nettakallappa Aquatic Centre, has recovered from a stomach bug and is raring to go. “I reached here on the 28th but then caught a stomach bug. Thankfully, I’m feeling much better now and I’m ready,” he said. 

While it is difficult to pinpoint one state as a challenger, as the swimming diaspora is quite evenly spread across, among contenders will be Services and Kerala.

Maharashtra, whose swimmers participated in last year’s meet under the banner of Swimming Federation of India due to internal politics of the state body, should be another force to be reckoned with.

Virdhawal Khade will be one to watch out for in short distance freestyle event while Sajan Prakash, who will be representing the Police team, will challenge in the 100m and 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley.

“I just returned from the World Police meet and there has not been much time to train for the meet. So I want to focus on the events that I’m participating in,” the Olympian, who has already made the Olympic B cut for 200m butterfly, said when asked about reducing his number of events.

Kushagra Rawat, another Olympic hopeful, will be the one to beat in the 800m freestyle event while rising star Kenisha Gupta of Maharashtra will be a major force in 50m, 100m, 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley.

However, the meet will miss Advait Page, who has already made the B cut for Olympics, as the 1500m specialist has moved to the United States for training. Aryan Nehra, another of the top swimmers over that distance, is also absent.

This nationals will also be the last chance for the swimmers to prove their mettle before the Asian Age Group swimming championship in Bengaluru at the end of September.