Mumbai. India’s elite swimmers felt like fish out of water when they got into the pool for the first few days after restrictions put in place due to the pandemic were lifted.
Kushagra Rawat felt his head bouncing while breathing out of water and knew his swimming rhythm had gone haywire. Backstroke specialist Srihari Nataraj had no awareness of how his arms were moving in water the first 3-4 days on his return to the pool. Even 18 years spent with a thousand repetitions day in, day out, could not ensure that the paddle would stay intact when India’s three elite swimmers – Sajan Prakash also trained in Dubai – resumed training.
Back in India now, they realise hitting pre-pandemic era speeds is going to be difficult. “This is going to take longer. Two months more perhaps,” Srihari (19), said.
Having camped in Dubai on the back of as sturdy dry-land training as was possible at home, Srihari, dipped his toes back into training happy that he was back in water. “It felt weird first 3-4 days and there was no feel of water. I had no idea what was happening with my arms nor awareness of where they were going, though they were moving. I couldn’t grab any water. It came back slowly in two weeks,” says the Bangalorean backstroker.
He will stay locked in his room for two more days on his return, since he has grandparents’ safety (above 70) to consider. “After that my parents are deciding if I should continue in Bangalore or look at training abroad,” he adds. Srihari says he’s still a month or two out from hitting top timing.
Rawat concurs. “Target was to get as close to previous bests as possible. But I’m not very close to my best at all,” says the 18-year-old, who is hoping Talkatora waters in Delhi are allowed to open at least for competitive swimmers in the coming months. “Or else I’ll go to Bangalore. I’ll need at least a month and half,” says the 800-freestyle specialist.
On finding the elusive feel of water after five months of training restricted to gym work, Rawat said, “First three weeks, body was sore from all the gym work (he’s set up makeshift workout equipment in his terrace). But initially there was no tempo at all. My head was bouncing weirdly while breathing. The hips were not aligned and I was leaning more on the right. And sometimes the left hand was going out too much. I was just not getting the stroke – something that came so naturally at the start of the year.” Srihari would lend his GoPro system for Rawat to analyse what limb movements were going astray.