With prayers on his lips and hope in his heart, Virender Nanavati performed the ritual of breaking the coconut and signalled to teen talent Virdhawal Khade to be the first one to take the plunge in the swimming pool of the remodelled Shyama Prasad Aquatics Complex on Monday evening.

On the eve of the three-day Federation Cup meet, when a part of the false ceiling over the warm-up pool came down and warranted all-day repair work, Mr. Nanavati, the General Secretary of the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) chose to rely more on prayers. After all, his pleas to those entrusted with providing facilities for the Commonwealth Games have gone unheeded.

“I wish and pray everything related with the event goes well,” said Mr. Nanavati looking skywards with folded hands. In fact, there is very little in the control of SFI in this event. In spite of repeated assurances from the Sports Authority of India and those in-charge of the civil works, the change-room for swimmers could not be made available to the participants.

As an alternative, it was decided to use the change-room meant for the divers, but it was found locked. It took the intervention of some of the local officials to make things a little better for the swimmers. The participants had no option but to grin and bear it.

Some curious swimmers wanted to check out the warm-up pool. But soon realised it was out of bounds for them. Notwithstanding the repair of the false ceiling, it is really surprising why the starting blocks were not installed at the warm-up pool.

But the participants, chosen by the States as per the number stipulated by the SFI, will have more on their minds once the action commences on Tuesday.

The meet, originally scheduled for five days in April, now stands squeezed to three days on the directives of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee citing budgetary constraints.

As a result, as many as 14 medals will be decided on each of the first two days and 12 more will be up for grabs on the final day. Barring the absence of Rehan Poncha and Aaron D’Souza, who are training at two different cities in the U.S., all the leading swimmers of the country are here for this test event for the Commonwealth Games.

Holder of five National records, Virdhawal Khade is an obvious star of the show. He is expected to win with ease three short spirits in freestyle in addition to two butterfly gold medals.

Similarly, local talent and National record holder Sandeep Sejwal, who will be representing Railways, is expected to sweep the breast stroke titles. Mander Divase, who holds three National records in long distance freestyle, appears to be another runaway winner.

Among the ladies, Richa Mishra will again be expected to fish out maximum medals. With the National championship just a month away, this meet will reflect the preparation of the swimmers ahead of the premier event that offers prize money for the first time.

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