Lack of Infrastructure, not talent is the biggest challenge faced by Indian swimmers: Sajan Prakash
Sajan Prakash currently leads the individual medals tally at the National Games with five medals.
The on-going 2015 National Games in Kerala has highlighted the growth of swimming in India. Records tumbled left, right and centre as the country’s young potential finally transitioned into seasoned professionals.
Kerala’s Sajan Prakash has been the stand-out performer at the event, so far. With three gold medals in four events, the 22-year-old is currently leading the Individual medal tally charts. However, his road to success has been one of hard work and battling financial problems.
Prakash won gold in the 100m butterfly, 4x100m relay and 1500 freestyle events. It was in the 1500m that Sajan smashed the games record. His timing of 15:55:78 shaved 20 seconds off the previous record set by G R Gagan of Karnataka, in 2011.
He also added a 200m freestyle medal to his ever growing kitty, by winning silver at the event. Prakash said, “When I started training during my juniors, I used to concentrate on sprint events. However, now I’m looking to do better in endurance events, such as the 1500m.”
“My coach and I are putting in several hours every day, to ensure that my power increases. After the National Games, training for the World Championships in Russia begins.”
India’s growing talent ‘pool’
The transition from junior to senior has not been the easiest. Apart from building his stamina, Prakash has had to change various facets of his style.
He said, “Stroke technique is the biggest change that has been included in my style. Now the strokes are more about power than speed.“
Lack of finances has thwarted Prakash’s chances of going abroad and training in South Africa. The government has not made any investment in a future talent, who is a potential world beater.
“I get around Rs 15,000 per month from the railways. But, my pool fees itself is Rs 4,000. The money barely helps me cover my stay.”
That being said, he was quite optimistic about the talent pool in India. Prakash said, “India has a lot of talent, when it comes to swimming. But, the government has to be interested in swimming first. Athletes such as Supriya Mondal and Likhit have the talent to do really well in the future.”
“There is only so much that you can do here, it’s important that youngster are sent abroad to train and compete. The more you compete with top swimmers, the better you get. I wanted to go abroad, but couldn’t because of financial constraints.”
Lack of resources
Resources have not been easily available for him as he thanks his mother for all the financial support.
He said, “For people who are rich, it’s easier to sustain themselves. But from the background I come from, I won’t be able sustain myself for that long. “
He added, “Money needs to be invested immediately.”
Despite such great performances Prakash is yet to get a private or corporate sponsor. However, there could be some light at the end of the tunnel. The 2015 National Games has seen a good amount of media coverage and crowd-turnout. This just might be the catalyst to some private sponsors to invest in swimming.
Prakash said, “It’s unbelievable to see so many people turn-up for the event. It’s probably because of the media coverage. Either way, performing in front of your home crowd is always good.” His performances also helped Kerala win gold in the team relay event.
He said, “We had barely practiced together and we thought bronze would be a realistic target. However, on the day everyone performed to their fullest and we won.”
What lies ahead?
Prakash is also one of the few swimmers to have represented India abroad. In 2014, He was part of both the Indian Commonwealth and Asian Games contingent.
Participating and doing well at international tournaments is still the Bangalore-based swimmer’s primary goal. He said, “The immediate goal is training harder for the World Championship in July, this year. I am mainly concentrating on the 1500m freestyle and the butterfly.”
Prakash isn’t too far away from the 2016 Rio Olympics either he has already managed to break the Olympic B qualification mark in the 1500m freestyle event. Now, the goal is to progress to the A qualification mark.
The effort of swimmers, such as Sajan Prakash is an anti-thesis to the Indian sporting landscape.
Fighting infrastructural and financial barriers, to represent the country abroad itself, is a feat worth being proud off. However, the number of medals and brilliant performances should act as an indicator that swimming has some massive potential.
From domestic dominance to victories abroad, Prakash has given his best so far. It’s about time that the government realises this potential and invests in the future of Indian sport.