Ace swimmer Virdhawal Khade appears to have come to terms with the harsh realities of aquatics sport not being high on the appeal count for Indians in general and the corporate world in particular. Now 22, Khade became the first swimmer in 24 years to win a medal (50m butterfly) at the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010, but since that wonderful achievement, he has languished on the sidelines. He qualified for the London Olympics, but was not part of the Indian team. When asked how far he has advanced as a swimmer in the last four years he said: “I don’t know as a swimmer, but I have improved as a person. I had a huge high at the Asian Games in 2010 and then was dropped out of the Olympic (London) team. I will definitely try and help all the young swimmers financially and technically. I have seen everything as I have been around for the past 17 years and I need to give back to the sport.”

Forced to cut down his daily training schedule by three hours, Khade said at the launch of the Square off Mumbai Swimmathon 2014 that his preparation for the Commonwealth and Asian Games in 2014 have been going well. “But unfortunately I work for the State (Maharasthra) government and I cannot give as much time (for practice) as I used to give earlier. Earlier I used to train 8-9 hours, but now I can only give 5-6 hours. This is a slight setback, but I am trying to cope up with work as well as swimming. If I do the right things at the right time, I should be among the medals next year.”

The 1.91 metre tall swimmer is employed as Encroachment Officer at the suburban Borivali tehsildhar’ office and hence feels obliged to work. “As much as possible I have to give time to work; being an officer I find myself responsible for many things. I need to justify that. I also want to study for UPSC exams. In the long term I want to do things for my family; so if this affects my swimming then no one should be surprised. Everyone has a right to plan for his family. I plan to swim till the 2016 Olympics.”

Not wanting to give the impression of being a grumbler, Khade felt that the sport could do with more support from people and the corporate world. “Unfortunately in India, you start getting things when you reach the top. There is no support at the grass root level. There are national level swimmers, but they do not get the recognition. It so happened that when I won the medal at the Asian Games, the limelight was on me; no one saw who was winning at the national level. I think (this attitude) should change. The government and the corporate world should adopt the brightest talents in the country; only then you can expect more Virdhawal Khades produced.”

Khade urged swimmers and coaches to look at the open sea swimming event at the Olympics as an opportunity to qualify and even win medals. “The 5 km Sun Rock to Gateway of India has a huge history. I am honoured to be part of it as Brand Ambassador. Swimming needs all support from people and the sponsors.”

When asked if the SFI is doing enough, Khade said: “I don’t want to comment on how people are working in the federation. That can be controversial and I have to continue swimming for a few more years. Things definitely would be better when there is more money and more people involved. We don’t have money and hence we cannot go and train abroad or participate in more competitions abroad. We should have more resources at our disposal; this has not happened ever and that is the only reason we are not performing as the Australians or Americans. We have good swimmers in Sandeep Sejwal and Aaron D’souza and couple of youngsters in Manav Patel of Gujarat and Shivani Kataria of Haryana. They have the potential (to win medals) but they need to get the right kind of support.”

Once again touching upon preparations for the two big events next year he said: “I am confident. I am going to do three events (50m & 100m freestyle and 50 butterfly). I have been training seriously for a year. I will start racing in a month and then I can honestly say if I have to go abroad. There are competitions in Singapore and Malaysia. There aren’t too many competition in the country so we have to rely on competitions outside. I will be going to Bangalore soon; it’s the best possible option. It has always been individual plans and never about the federation. So we have to prepare ourselves.”

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