OLYMPIC REMINISCENCES My pleas for a coach during training fell on deaf ears; it was the urge to do well that egged me on.
Representing India in the Olympics remains the biggest moment of my sports career. I was the undisputed champion in 50m freestyle in India for over eight years and had set a national record (22.89s) to qualify for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
Though I was nearly 26 at that time, I was at my peak and keen to do well at the Games. But the preparations didn’t go as well as I had anticipated.
I trained all alone in Delhi for the Olympics. The Swimming Federation of India did not assign me a coach and they turned a deaf ear to my pleas to get my personal coach from Chennai to Delhi. Frustrated, I was left to train on my own, and it was the urge to do well in the Games that egged me on. At the reception in the Games village, my jaws literally dropped when I saw my profile on a computer after my fingerprint was scanned by a biometric fingerprint scanner. The security at the village was tight after a pipe bomb blast near downtown Atlanta, and our movements were restricted. That didn’t prevent me from making friends with a lot of athletes.
Though I had been to two Asian Games and numerous SAF Games, representing the country, none could match the Atlanta Olympics in terms of hospitality. The rooms were spic and span and the food a real treat.
At the Games, I got the chance to see my hero Alexander Popov, the reigning Olympic champion in 50m freestyle, from close quarters.
To be honest, seeing the imposing figure of Popov and other fellow competitors in the warm-up pool left me feeling deflated.
I realised that Indian swimming was light years behind the world. I finished sixth in the heats, and could not reach anywhere near my personal best. Overall, I finished 32nd in the competition. Though it was a disappointing end to my Olympic dream, I came out wiser from the experience.