Watching Sandeep Sejwal swim in the pool is like watching an eel weave its way through an underwater cove. This well-built, dexterous swimmer became the first Indian to qualify for the swimming events at the 2012 London Olympics after clocking 1:02.92 seconds in the 100m breaststroke event at the 14th FINA World Championships in Shanghai. He also made the Olympics cut in the 200m breaststroke event by clocking 2:12:02s. This Asian games medalist is in high spirits and is gearing up to give his best in the upcoming Olympics. In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Sejwal opened up about his accomplishments and aspirations.
Q. You must be a relieved man, and a satisfied one too, for becoming the first Indian swimmer to make it to the London Olympics.
Sejwal: Yes, I am. To be honest though, I wasn’t really surprised with my performance at the World Championship at Shanghai. The timings have opened the door for the Olympics but I am not content yet. I have improved a lot since the Championships and I am expecting an even better performance in London.
Q. You didn’t do particularly well in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. What have you learnt from those disappointments?
Sejwal: At the highest level, there is always something to learn. Even world champions learn at such events. Yes, my performance was nowhere near my expectations and my goals but I’ve learnt a lot by competing with the best. Such setbacks are only going to help me and my career in the long run.
Q. Are you ready, mentally and physically, for the big ones in London?
Sejwal: I have been training very hard under Dr Bam (Sejwal’s coach). I have learnt a lot about mental training, and also the importance of pre-race preparations. It’s not just about diving into the pool and giving it your best shot anymore, and I believe I have prepared myself well to cover all the bases in London.
Q. You have specialized in the breaststroke category. Is there a particular pattern that you follow, like say, the number of strokes you must make per lap, to come up with your best times?
Sejwal: As you probably know, I compete in three events, with the 200 metre breaststroke being the longest. This runs into four laps. Yes, I do try to stick to a pattern in terms of number of strokes per lap. It’s not always easy to maintain such patterns. But then, that’s why we have coaches who fine-tune you.
Q. Can you outline your training routine in the pool and beyond, especially for the Olympics?
Sejwal: We usually start 5 in the morning. I train for about two-and-a-half to three hours in the pool. After that I hit the gym for about 3 hours, starting at 11. The next three hours are for lunch and resting. At 5 p.m., I am back in the pool, and I stay there for close to three hours. So it works out to about eight hours of training. Normally I swim about eight kilometers per day, apart from the gym work.
Q. You recently recorded a good time in the Singapore Open but you went slower in the Malaysian Open. Where did you think you went wrong in Malaysia?
Sejwal: My performance in Singapore was good, and I was expecting to swim a lot better in Malaysia. But that backfired: I put too much pressure on myself before my race in Malaysia and expected too much out of my race. I guess that cost me a little bit and I ended up being slower in Malaysia. I won’t be repeating this mistake again.
Q. Life has not really been kind to you, but you have managed to overcome the obstacles and reach where you are today. If you look back, what would you reckon was the turning point in your career?
Sejwal: Well, I don’t like to turn and look back, and I definitely don’t like to cry about the past. What has already happened cannot be changed. I just live in the present and train very hard. My aim is to make sure that in the future I get the rewards for which I am training right now.
Q. Who have been your pillars of strength, your main motivation so far?
Sejwal: On a personal front, my mom has been my biggest source of motivation without a doubt. But professionally, my coach Nihaar Ameen is the main reason for whatever I have achieved in the pool till now. He motivates me and pushes me to the limit.
Q. Swimming in India is still not a very popular or financially rewarding sport. So is education a top priority for you?
Sejwal: It doesn’t matter if you are a swimmer or if you play some other sport in India. Education is very important and every athlete must pay strong attention to his or her academic career. Without a strong educational background, even the best athlete will face many challenges in life. I have graduated from St Stephens College, Delhi. It is one of the best in India so I guess I am fine on that count.
Q. How good is the Indian swimming contingent this time? What can we expect from our swimmers at the Olympics?
Sejwal: Realistically speaking, the Indian swimming team is very young. For us, qualifying for the Olympics itself is a very tough task. But the good news is that there will be some of us representing the country at the Games. I do hope we can do better than what we had done at Beijing.
Q. What events are you participating in before the Olympics?
Sejwal: We have the Fed Cup in Hyderabad next month and i think that will be our last tournament before London.