Pradeep Kumar accompanied freestyle swimmer A.P. Gagan for the 2012 London Games and got a first-hand feel of Olympic standards.

The national swimming coach, present at the 66th senior National aquatics in progress here, is eyeing junior and sub-junior talent.

He says: “The most striking aspect about London was seeing younger swimmers on the podium and small nations winning medals. Earlier the average age of medallists was 23 to 24 years, this time a 15-year-old from Lithuania (100m women’s breaststroke champion Ruta Meilutyte) won setting a European record.”

European dominance was another point he emphasised. “There were several medallists from Europe, representing small countries with small populations. This is encouraging news, we can also reach there if we start looking at younger swimmers for training and competitions, looking at the next eight years or so.”

Priyanka Priyadarshini (15) from Delhi and Maana Patel (12) from Ahmedabad, may have ticked a few boxes in the national coach’s book among the medal winners over the first three days. Priyanka established an India best 34.29 seconds in women’s 50m breaststroke heats. Maana finished third in 50m backstroke on her debut in the senior Nationals.

The former is based in North Carolina for swimming and studies and when in India trains under Nihar Ameen in Bangalore. The lanky Gujarat girl, coached by Kamlesh Nanavati, won three events at the 2012 sub-junior Nationals in Rajkot, where her 32.65 in 50m backstroke bettered the boys’ time of 33.07 in the same event.

There is a long way to go, Priyanka has shown determination to conquer adversity and Maana did not get overawed competing against the seniors in an Olympics-like environment at the Balewadi pool. The former is recovering from typhoid which forced a long break from swimming and took part to keep coach Ameen’s faith.

She also credits Olympian and training partner Sandeep Sejwal for goading her into action. “Sandeep and I train together and when he called me a coward for thinking about skipping the Nationals due to lack of conditioning after typhoid, I had to prove him wrong,” asserted Priyanka, crediting her coach for motivation.

For Maana, watching and interacting with internationals made her day. The bronze timing (32.06) shows she does not suffer from stage fright. Like her, Maharashtra’s Monique Gandhi and Tamil Nadu’s Sherlyn Devadasan were two sub-junior National champions to win medals at the senior Nationals.

With pressure off her back, Priyanka is looking at bigger events like the 2102 Asian championships to inch closer to 33.12 ‘B’ standard qualifying time in 50m breaststroke for the 2013 Worlds at Barcelona.

National coach Pradeep Kumar is happy at the talent available in sub-junior boys and girls. He only hopes the proposed junior camps commence on schedule so that nurturing can take place at the right age.

“Technique should be taught early, later it is difficult to correct them,” he said.

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