| Chaitali Ghosh, who made a splash on the Bhagirathi on Sunday, dreams of crossing the English Channel. Picture by Amit Datta
Behrampore: The Bhagirathi has seen thousands of changes along its shores over the past 60 years. But the one that a brave and defiant 23-year old girl from Chinsurah brought about on a sultry Sunday afternoon will surely not be forgotten in a hurry in this historical town of Behrampore.
Chaitali Ghosh (nee Dhenki) of the Chinsurah Swimming Club became the first woman in the 60-year-old history of Lafarge Cup swimming competition to win the overall title (including both male and female) of the 81-km category along the Bhagirathi.
And that too by a fare margin. Her closest rival, Kuntal Majhi of Canning Swimming Centre, trailed her by 29 minutes. While Chaitali timed 11 hours, 10 minutes 56 seconds, Kuntal finished at 11:39.26. Sambhu Mondal of Noapara Swimming Club came third with a time of 12:05.35.
A total of 13 participants took part in the event, which started from the Ahiron Farakka Barrage Ghat and ended at Gorabazar K.N. College Ghat.
Meanwhile, the first three places in the men’s section of the 19-km category went to Saibal Banerjee (Bowbazar Byam Samity, 2:17.50), Mayur Mehta Jayawardene (Maharashtra) and Junaid Bashir Khan (Maharashtra, 2:19.18), respectively.
Santana Patra (Calcutta Sports Association, 2:20.44), Amrita Das (College Square, 2:28.12) and Soumyasila Dey (Central Swimming Club, 2:28.45) clinched the first three places in the women’s category.
While the 15-year old Saibal has claimed the men’s title on his debut in this meet, 21-year old Santana has made it three-in-a-row in the women’s category.
But the highlight of the day was surely Chaitali.
“I dream of crossing the English Channel. May be this is a step in the right direction,” an ecstatic Chaitali said as thousands gathered around her to applaud the magical feat.
In fact, she said she was confident of beating the male participants. “I knew if I could beat the men, the spotlight will fall upon me. And that will probably help me get a few sponsors that I so desperately need for the preparation of crossing the English Channel.”
Never along the course of the 81-km stretch she felt vulnerable to losing the lead, which she took right from the word go. “At the one-and-half hour mark, Kuntal was breathing down my throat, but I kept my cool,” she said before pushing her way towards the dais to receive the prize.
There were a few other notable feats. A six-year old boy named Arijit Ghosh from Sodepur in Jiagunj was the youngest participant to complete the 19-km stretch. The only physically handicapped participant of the meet was Sukanta Mondal of Agrani Swimming Club, also in the 19-km category. He too finished successfully.
However, three Bangladeshi participants could not take part in the meet because of visa problems.
Later, during the prize distribution ceremony, Jayawardene refused to take his medal, alleging that he was misguided by the accompanying lifesaver which cost him the first place. This prompted the organisers to ask him to leave the dais. They even said they would approach the national body to take “strong action” against the swimmer.