The Commonwealth Games is round the corner and so far only three home swimmers — Sandeep Sejwal, A. P. Gagan and Rohit Havaldar — have met the qualifying mark.
When the 64th National aquatic championship opens at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium pool here on Tuesday, the country's leading names will be looking to give their best and make the most of the last opportunity to qualify.
From the core group of about 35 swimmers chosen for the preparatory camp for the Games, more than 10 have been training abroad. The immediate goal of the swimmers is to match or come under the time clocked by the eighth-placed finisher in the finals of 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Khade has to come good
Virdhawal Khade, holder of National records in freestyle over 50, 100 and 200 metres, will have to reproduce some of the timings he clocked last year to make the grade but one must remember that those times came before the ban on bodysuits was imposed, effective from the beginning of this year.
At the Federation Cup late last month in New Delhi, Khade could not make the mark due to lack of competition. This time, he will have to give it all, with or without competition.
Aaron D'souza and Rehan Poncha, who have been training in the U.S., are back. While D'souza figures in the 100m and 200m in freestyle and butterfly events besides the 200m individual medley, Poncha will be taking part only in three events — 200m freestyle and backstroke over 100m and 200m.
Poncha is forced to skip the 100m freestyle and the 200m butterfly scheduled on the last day of the championship (August 28) since he has been asked to report in New Delhi to receive the Arjuna Award the following day.
This directive from the Sports Ministry will end Poncha's reign as the best male swimmer in the National championship for the last few years. In fact, the battle for the honour could well be among Sejwal, D'souza and Mandar Divase, who have entered a maximum of five individual events.
Richa's reign to continue?
Among the ladies, the reign of distance swimmer Richa Mishra is likely to continue. Though there is no hope of any Indian girl making the Commonwealth Games qualifying mark, Richa can be expected to improve any of her four National records besides taking a shot at Nisha Millet's National record in 200m freestyle.
Meanwhile, the diving and water-polo events scheduled at the Rajasthan University have faced some unexpected hurdles. Due to violence in the days leading to the students' election, a court order has ordered closure of the university until August 25.
As a result, Tuesday's water-polo matches have been shifted to the Sawai Man Singh Stadium pool. Fortunately, the organisers have managed special permission only for the high-board divers and officials for Tuesday. The diving events for Wednesday have been rescheduled for the following days.