Veerdhawal Khade, 21, took the plunge into a new career as Deputy Collector, appointed by the Maharashtra Government. He reported for work on Wednesday at Konkan Bhavan, Navi Mumbai, and his jurisdiction will extend to Thane district. For an Olympian who donned the national colours at Beijing 2008 at 17, won the Arjuna award last year at the age of 20 and is still deeply involved in competitive sport. The new designation in government service is a unique achievement.
Recently at the 66th Senior National Aquatics Championship in Balewadi pool, the Kolhapur-based freestyle ace received the ‘best male swimmer’ trophy for topping the men’s category with five titles. Competing against the clock in the absence of competition from other state swimmers, Veerdhawal went under the ‘B’ standard timing for 2013 World Championship announced by FINA, the international swimmers body in freestyle races over 50 and 100 metres.
The decision to take up the administrative assignment came when the Indian swimmer was taking a break from training, at the end of a four-year Olympic cycle this year. He will resume training for the World Championship at Barcelona scheduled for next year by working on cutting down timing in his favourite events. Veerdhawal had clocked 22.84s in 50m freestyle (WC qualifying B standard 23:11) and 50:53s in 100 freestyle (B standard 50:64) at the Balewadi Nationals.
Maharashtra’s decision to honour the teenager from Kolhapur district in rural Maharashtra with the Deputy Collector posting has to do with Veerdhawal’s loyalty to the state at the national events. He trains at Bangalore under Nihar Ameen at the K C Reddy Swim Centre, but unlike other Maharashtra swimmers who shifted allegiance to Karnataka, the Olympian continues to represent his home state, where he is viewed as swimming’s poster boy.
Veerdhawal’s father Vikram Khade, who accompanied the freestyle ace from Kolhapur to Konkan Bhavan for first day of training in the Collector’s office, said, “this is Veerdhawal’s first posting after joining the state government. Maharashtra Sports Ministry has been supportive. When he qualified for the Olympics, the state government came up with financial assistance to the tune of Rs. 15 lakhs which was timely assistance for preparations.”
Veerdhawal and coach Ameen had been to Frankfurt, Germany for an acclimatization camp prior to 2012 London Olympics. FINA decision to restrict entries deprived the Maharashtra swimmer, along with three other Indian qualifiers, of the chance to compete at London. Both student and teacher teamed up again at Balewadi, rejoicing the freestyle sprint timings in 50m and 100m at the 66th Nationals and now can focus on preparations for the 2013 WC.
Veerdhawal is credited with India’s best timing in five (freestyle 50, 100, 200, 400 and butterfly 50m). For a sportsperson from a rural area, the Kolhapur based teenager has always been a go-getter and crowd-puller at swim competitions. India’s youngest Olympic swimming qualifier at 17, when he participated at 2008 Beijing in three events, he made waves at 19 with an Asian Games bronze (50m butterfly at 2010 Guangzhou), was honoured with the Arjuna at 20. Now the new chip on his shoulder comes with increased responsibility as a competitive swimmer.