The absence of the country’s biggest star Virdhawal Khade and a few other top swimmers has taken the gloss off the 67th National Aquatic championships, which gets under way here on Wednesday. Khade has joined the Maharashtra Government Service as an assistant collector and is undergoing mandatory training. However, Khade’s absence has thrown open the freestyle events that he had dominated in the past.

 Khade’s coach Nihar Ameen said it was a good opportunity for youngsters to grab the limelight. “I expect Aaron D’Souza to do well here. Sandeep Sejwal has been training hard and is in good form,” the coach said.

Tamil Nadu’s M.B. Balakrishnan, the national record holder in 50m backstroke, will also be missed as he is pursuing higher studies in the U.S. 

Karnataka’s Ashwin Menon and Saurabh Sangvekar are back after shoulder injuries and Ameen expects them to win the middle distance events. The rescheduling of the event from October to November has forced promising swimmers from Karnataka Surabhi Tipre and Anusha Mehta to give a miss to the event because of exams.

Dope-tainted Richa Mishra, who is serving a suspension, is also not taking part. Gujarat’s Maana Patel is likely to cash in on the absence of top stars in the women’s section.

The 13-year-old created a sensation in the last Nationals in Pune by winning the bronze in 50m freestyle.

Coach Ameen rates her highly. Double National-record holder Priyanka Priyadarshini is expected to do well in the breaststroke events. Karnataka and Maharashtra are expected to renew their rivalry for the team title.

The five-day championship will also serve as the selection trials for the Commonwealth and Asian Games. The National championships is the first major event to be staged at the swimming complex.

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