As India prepares for the much awaited Jakarta Asian Games 2018, a team, largely ignored by many, would be silently preparing for reclaiming the lost glory. It's a matter of surprise that despite our culture and folklore filled with many a brilliant swimmer, India has always cut a sorry figure when it came to winning at the world stage of swimming.
The only major gold medal in any world event was ironically brought by a crippled soldier, Murlikant Petkar at Heidelberg Paralympics 1972, setting a new world record of 37.33 seconds in his event. The question remains: Can Indian swimmers turn the game this time around?
Delhi Asiad 1951: Swimmers' only claim to fame:-
The inaugural Asian Games held in New Delhi was historic from many perspectives. Among the contenders for the top honors was an Indian swimmer, who is still unknown for his exploits in the pool.
Sachin Nag, who had once led an unknown Indian team to a surprising knockout round on debut in the men's water polo competition at London Olympics 1948, clinched the gold medal in Men's 100 m freestyle, apart from two bronze medals in Men's 3*100 m medley relay and 4*100 m relay freestyle.
Sadly, despite early appreciation from Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sachin was never rewarded for his efforts. Even today, Sachin's gold at Delhi 1951 has been the only time India has ever won a gold medal in the sport of swimming at the Asian Games.
Seoul 1986: The last time we won something other than bronze:-
35 years after Sachin Nag had clinched the only gold medal ever, it was Khajan Singh Tokas, a budding CRPF cadet, who shocked the world with a silver medal in Men's 200 m. butterfly event at Seoul Asian Games 1986, finishing tragically a fraction of a second behind Hiroshi Sato of Japan, who established a new Asian Games record of 2 minutes, 1.06 seconds.
However, none of his compatriots or his successors ever took inspiration from his feat, and it took 24 more years for India to get another medal in swimming, when Virdhawal Khade, then a young prodigy, won the bronze medal in Men's 50 m. butterfly at Guangzhou 2010. Inspired by his exploits, his teammate, Sandeep Sejwal clinched another bronze at Incheon Asiad 2014 in Men's 50 m. breaststroke.
Can India perform any better this time?:-
At present, it's tough to say if India can reclaim the lost glory in swimming at Jakarta Asiad 2018. However, if the swimmers make up their minds, nothing is impossible.
Interestingly, this time for Jakarta Asiad, all the prominent swimmers are going together. Be it Khade, or Sejwal, or Aaron D' Souza, or even the young prodigy Srihari Nataraj, who along with Sajan Prakash had breached the heats' barrier, reaching the semifinals of their respective events at Commonwealth Games, a first for Indian swimming in years.
Besides, Srihari Nataraj is the find of the incumbent government's magnum opus sports talent hunt, 'Khelo India' and has also proven his mettle at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. If he makes up his mind to go for the best, he could very well give India a moment to cherish for in Asian swimming.