Interview with Indian swimmer Shivani Kataria: "Reaching semi-finals in 2016 Rio Olympics would be historic"
The great thing about talking to young athletes, especially in India, is that you get a lot of honesty and they call it like they see it. Teenager Shivani Kataria will be representing India at the 2016 Rio Olympics in the 200m freestyle event in swimming and the Gurgaon-based youngster has risen swiftly to become the country’s hope in a sport that does not see frequent participation in international competitions.
Confident, smart and yet grounded, Shivani Kataria is pretty realistic about her chances in Brazil and spoke exclusively to Sportskeeda about her life, swimming and whom she wants to meet in the Olympics village. Here are a few excerpts from the interview:
How are your preparations going on for 2016 Rio Olympics?
Preparations have been going good and I am feeling quite positive. There is a bit of a virus in the air and I am down with a little cold but things will be fine soon. I am really excited about going to Rio and am proud to be representing the country on the biggest stage.
Tell us a little about your life, background and your first tryst with swimming.
I was born in Gurgaon in 1997 and have lived here all my life. My family belongs to the village, where I was born, but we shifted to the city when I was young. I have been studying in DAV school since I was a kid but went to Bengaluru for a couple of years. I had to drop one year of schooling because I was training in Phuket, Thailand. The first time I started swimming was at the age of six, when I joined a summer camp with my cousin sister, who used to train. Initially it was all in fun and I just enjoyed being in the swimming pool and never imagined that I will make it to the Olympics one day.
When did you started taking swimming seriously and who played an important role in helping you realise your potential?
After initially doing swimming for fun, I started taking part in district level competitions and it was my first coach, Mr. Yadav, who took me under his wing and oversaw my progress. Slowly, I started performing better in competitions and I won the bronze medal at CBSE nationals in Gujarat, which gave me a lot of confidence. From thereon, I decided to take swimming seriously and trained really hard. The district level pool was really close to my house and that helped a lot.
My father has been a huge support and he has sacrificed a lot for me. He accompanies me to training and told me to keep going. My father still scolds me when I make mistakes.
In India, not a lot of people know swimming and it is a rare sport for people to participate in. Talk a little about the difficulties you faced.
Well, I think that the scenarios are changing now and more people are getting interested in swimming as compared to the time i started off. The infrastructre has improved drastically and I think more people want to learn swimming. I was lucky to have gotten the support of my family and coaches.
What is the competition level that exists in domestic tournaments?
The competition is pretty good and I was made to work hard in tournaments. Obviously, due to swimming being a limited sport, the competition is not that high but I had to put in my best all the time.
When did you become determined to take swimming as a career and how did that change your training schedule?
It was the year 2012 when I decided that I wanted to be a professional swimmer. I started working really hard, swimming two hours in the morning and evening along with an hour of core exercises during the day. I had to take care of a lot of things, right from my eating habits to sleeping schedule.
Describe the role that Speedo has played as a sponsor in your swimming career?
Immense. Being a swimmer is not easy and a lot of funds are required, right from the suits, caps to other equipment. The swimming suits are really expensive and becomes difficult for any normal person to afford all these things. I have been really lucky to have Speedo as my sponsor and am grateful to them for their support and help.
How did your dream of going to 2016 Rio Olympics about to be true?
Though I had previously gone to Malaysia to participate in a private tournament on my own, it was last year in Thailand, where I went for a FINA camp, when I actually moved towards the Rio Olympics. I met a lot of swimmers from other countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh there and started thinking about qualifying for the Olympics. When I clocked 2:04:00 in that camp and I was closest to a time slot level, called the B Cart, it made me believe that I could represent India in Brazil.
What is the level of support you have got from the federation?
I think the support I have received from our federation is amazing and it is much better as compared to what swimmers in countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar get. I spoke to a lot of swimmers during the FINA camp in Thailand and some of them told me that their countries do not support swimming proactively.
How excited are you about going to Rio and which athletes do you want to meet?
I am pretty excited about the prospect of going to Rio and want to meet the likes of Usain Bolt, Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps. I have grown up watching these people and it would be quite amazing to see someone like Bolt running in front of my eyes.
What goes in your mind when you are actually inside a pool?
It gets weird sometimes and there is a song that gets stuck into my head. On other occasions, I look at my rival swimmers and where they are positioned. If they go ahead of me, I get hassled and worried but am learning to deal with things.
How will you deal with swimming alongside someone like Missy Franklin in Rio Olympics?
I have been working on mental strength by doing psychological exercises. This is year in January and February, we worked on mental exercises, which will certainly help me in Rio Olympics.
How do you rate your chances at the Rio Olympics and what is your aim?
To start with, I want to give it my best shot and hope to put in the performance of my life. My best case at the Olympics will be if I make it to the semi-finals because winning a gold medal is out of the question. Even if I manage to reach the semi-finals, it will be a historic moment for me and Indian swimming.