Sajan Prakash and Shivani Katariya, are all set to represent India in the swimming events at the 2016 Olympic Games. Kerala-born Sajan, aged 22, will swim in the men’s 200m butterfly, while Haryana-born Shivani,18, will compete in the women’s 200m freestyle event, as per the announcement made by the Swimming Federation of India in the month of July.
The SFI selected them through the Universality rule, which allows one male and one female competitor to participate provided the swimmer has participated in the last World Championship, as none of the swimmers passed with ‘A’ qualifications that secures their place directly in the Olympics.
Virdhawal Khade, Sandeep Sejwal, Sourabh Sangvekar and Supriyo Mondal had all made the ‘B’ timings but following a meeting which included national team coach Pradeep Kumar, Wilson Cherian and SFI secretary Kamlesh Nanavati, it was decided that Prakash and Shivani would represent the nation.
As per the University Rule, swimmers who have failed to secure an automatic qualification by reaching ‘A’ time, or Olympic Qualification Time (Time), but have been selected by FINA (International Swimming Federation) for meeting ‘B’ time, also known as Olympic Standard Time, are eligible for Universality places. For the 2016 games, countries with no swimmers who have already qualified may choose to send one male and one female swimmer to participate in games, provided those swimmers participated in the 16th FINA World Championships in Kazan in 2015 and are approved by FINA to compete. These swimmers may be entered in one individual event each.
Both of these representatives are India’s Wild Card entries into the event. Now, the question is – will they be able to play the triumph card?
Sajan Prakash, fondly known as ‘Indian Michael Phelps’, has been a consistent performer this season. The Kerala swimmer, who won six gold and three silver medals at the Indian National Games in February 2015, is a national record holder in 200m butterfly and 1500m freestyle. His track record got glorified by his impressive performance at the Age Group Long Course Swimming Meet in Hong Kong, where he clocked 1:59:69 in the 200m butterfly, becoming the first Indian ever to dip under the two minute mark.
At the same time, Shivani was the only woman to compete at the last World Championship and thus was the only one eligible to qualify for the Olympics as per the University Rule. She has won the gold medal in 200m freestyle, at the South Asian Games held this year in Dispur.
With the Rio send-off being done, we wish for all the glory, excitement and learnings that these athletes can accomplish. Here’s to the hope that India makes its marks in a field that other than cricket.