It’s not often that an Indian swimmer makes it to the Olympics. It’s even rarer for one to make it to two Olympic Games in a row. Sajan Prakash has the chance to achieve that milestone later this year.
The B qualification mark does not ensure an automatic spot for the Olympics – instead, it puts the swimmers in contention if the total quota of swimmers is not reached by the end of the qualification period.
Sajan Prakash is one of six Indian swimmers who have achieved the same ahead of the Tokyo Games and are hoping to make the A qualification mark in the next few months.
In an interview with Sportskeeda, Sajan Prakash speaks about his Rio experience, his plans for the coming months, and his aspirations for the Tokyo Games. He also talks about recovering from a serious injury a couple of years ago, and the challenges he has had to overcome to keep his Olympic dream alive.
Sajan Prakash's exclusive interview with Sportskeeda
Sportskeeda: You competed at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janerio. Can you tell us about your experience at the Rio Games in the competition as well as in the Olympic village?
Sajan Prakash: Like anybody, the Olympics were also my childhood dream which that day came true. It is the biggest meet ever in the world of sports and I was a part of it. I did not know much about the world of swimming earlier. I could see a lot of improvements that could happen after seeing the other swimmers there. And I was more interested in learning from them and trying to improve. After seeing those swimmers, I could relate to a lot of the things that my coaches had been telling me which I then wanted to use to improve my own swimming.
Sportskeeda: You are currently in Dubai training at the Aqua Nation Sports Academy. Is that where you are going to be based for the next few months until the Olympics?
Sajan Prakash: I have been here for the past seven months because the pools were shut in India. We were three of us who had come here. The other two swimmers left some time back. My coach from a long time, Mr. Pradeep Kumar, was in Dubai and I used to come here often. I decided to stay back and train here in Dubai.
Sportskeeda: Recently you did quite well at the Latvian swimming event, where you won gold in the 200-meter butterfly and a bronze in the 100m butterfly. So are there any more international competitions that you're planning to participate in in the coming months?
Sajan Prakash: The Latvian Open was okay. I wouldn't rate it as very great. My timing was not that great. This was the first competition after many months. A few meets are coming up. We are trying to get in touch with other countries and trying to see if we can travel. There is an event in Uzbekistan in mid-April and we are planning to travel there.
Sportskeeda: The Swimming Federation of India is trying to host an Olympic-accredited competition in June so that it will give a chance for the Indian swimmers to compete in India and qualify. So, any thoughts on that and if it was there, then would you travel to India to try to compete in that event as well?
Sajan Prakash: Of course. If there is any competition in India it would be great and I will definitely come. In other countries, there are some challenges around quarantine, and then it is not always possible to take part in a competition after quarantine. So, if there is an event in India, I will definitely take part.
Sportskeeda: Do you think the Federation is doing enough to support the swimmers? Or would you like to see them support more?
Sajan Prakash: I think the Federation is doing a good job. I think they are working towards educating more coaches. Coaches are the key to helping any sport grow. And I think the sporting culture and mindset need to change. People need to understand what sport is about. That there is more than just cricket. The government can also be more supportive to help make the sport grow.
Sportskeeda: In an earlier interview of yours, you had spoken about how the sporting culture and mindset in India should be encouraged as it is in other countries. Have you seen that change in the last maybe 10 years that you have been actively involved in sports now? And do you still think that it needs to be improved further?
Sajan Prakash: It has improved a lot compared to what my generation has come through and what today's generation has. Earlier, I used to go to the office and then to train, so it was difficult. This generation is more focused on sports at an earlier age and they also receive more support from the government so we should be grateful for that.
Sportskeeda: In 2019, you had a pretty serious neck injury. The Tokyo Olympics were scheduled for last year but had to be postponed due to the pandemic. Do you believe this delay of one year has given you some more time to become fit and prepared for the Olympics? Do you feel it is a lucky break in some way for you?
Sajan Prakash: I would say it was lucky for me that the Olympics got delayed. My neck injury was quite bad which started in December 2019. It took some time for us to figure out the actual injury and how to deal with it. For many months, I could not sleep properly and walk properly because the neck is a very important part. I was focused on my rehab to recover as soon as possible. I'm back to nearly 80% and am trying to improve on a daily basis.
Sportskeeda: The Olympic A standard in your event is 1:56.48. So what are the things that you're working on at your end to try to improve that and make it to the Olympic A cut-off?
Sajan Prakash: We are doing things as best as possible. A lot of things could be worked upon – in terms of technical support from the physio and funding for competitions. We are also looking to go for higher-altitude training which I believe will be very helpful. Other than that, we are doing our best and can see the improvements on a day-to-day basis.
Sportskeeda: Sponsorship is generally a big hurdle for Indian athletes because a lot of sponsorship generally goes towards cricket. Can you tell us a little bit about how you're managing the sponsorship and traveling for competitions?
Sajan Prakash: Funding-wise, I am getting support from the GoSports Foundation so it is not a big burden for me. I am grateful for that. A few years back, I could not support my swimming and my mother had to pay for everything. After that, I got a scholarship and things have been improving. I am also grateful for the support from the Kerala police.
Sportskeeda: Who were our role models that you looked up to in swimming and other sports?
Sajan Prakash: In swimming, it is definitely Michael Phelps. I met him at the Olympics last time since we swam in the same category. We were focused on the event so we don’t usually communicate before the event. And after that, I didn’t get to speak to him really.
Outside of swimming, I recently watched the Netflix series 'The Last Dance' about Michael Jordan. I did not know much about basketball before that. It was incredible to see his skills and see him develop amazing things during his period of dominance.
Also, my mother and my coach have been big role models for me in my life. My mother really paved the way for my success and showed me the real sporting world.
Sprotskeeda: Looking ahead to Tokyo, what are your hopes and aspirations for the Tokyo Games once you get there?
Sajan Prakash: For me, after the injury, I just want to be healthy and normal first. I was cribbing and complaining a lot during my injury. It is God's blessing that I am back to almost the same level as I was before my injury. I want to try and achieve the Olympic A standard - which is considered the semi-final time. For me, it's doing my best every day.