Swimming, as a sport has fancied the imagination of all sports lovers when it comes to the Olympics, Asian games or any World championships. It is the celebration of athleticism, fierce rivalries, strong comebacks and many more memories that stay forever.
This year, South Asian Games, that were held in Guwahati, were no different in terms of participation, excitement, new records, some major upsets and arrival of some unheard of names in the Asian circuit. Notably, amongst them were Matthew Abheysinghe, Kimiko Raheem of Sri Lanka. These two swimmers in particular, raised the bar so high in their respective events by winning six gold medals each with as many new meet records, that it reminded me of Michael Phelps performance during the 2008 Beijing Olympics where he won eight gold medals and became the most decorated Olympian ever in the history of the games.
These two youngsters were declared the best athletes of the 2016 South Asian Games. Both these swimmers train with their respective coaches in USA and Thailand, showed lots of promise, not just the way they performed in the pool but even outside, the way they conducted and managed throughout the championship. I personally had a chance to interview the winners after the races and what really impressed me about all these youngsters, was their faith in themselves, their character under the pressure situations, their fighting spirit, all such qualities that differentiate a champion from the mortals.
The crowd poured in big numbers at the Dr Zakhir Hussain Aquatics Venue as the games progressed cheering the swimmers irrespective of their nationalities. One instance in particular that I still remember clearly is when a girl from Pakistan, Catherine Leanne Swan, won a gold medal, a historic first for Pakistan in the pool, upsetting some big names from team India, the crowd came to their feet and gave this youngster, who at the moment is doing her graduation in a university in UK, gave a loud applause for her performance. Later, when I spoke to her and her parents who told me that she started swimming when the family moved to Dubai around eight years back and with the encouragement of the coaches and support from them, the girl decided to take the sport seriously and rest as they say is history. ‘Sports’, is nothing but a celebration of human spirit.
Team India, too had some big names swimming in the competition, notably amongst them were Veerdhaval Khade and Sandeep Sejwal, both of them medalists from the last edition of Asian games, gave their team something to cheer about by winning Gold medals in their respective events i.e 50 metres Butterfly for Veer with a record time and three gold medals for Sandeep in his breaststroke events, also with the record times. Other notable performances came from Sajan Prakash, the most decorated athlete from the last edition of national games, could not repeat his feat of last year as he was overcoming his shoulder injury but despite that he won two gold medals in 1500 metres freestyle as well 200metres butterfly, both gruelling events. In the women’s section, Shivani Kataria, Maana Patel, V Malvika, Damini Gowda gave the host some inspiring performances to take their medals tally up. These girls surely have a big potential to win laurels for their country on the international stage.
I can surely feel this as a watershed moment for Indian Swimming and with proper preparation and guidance these youngsters can go a long way as I feel the real competition for us is against the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans at the Asian and the World level.
The 12th South Asian Games, on the overall will be remembered for a long time to come for all good reasons, with Team India being on top of the medals tally, some notable performances from our neighbouring athletes, from the big turnout from the locals, to the lasting friendships amongst athletes, cultural bonhomie, to the security arrangements, to overall organisation, to providing athletes the best accommodation.
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