The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Indian quintet looks ahead

Calcutta: When, at 31, American Jenny Thomson claimed the 100m butterfly gold in the Barcelona world swimming championships last July, it caught the attention of a 19-year-old Indian girl watching from the stands. The former world record-holder’s win against the odds — her career has often been threatened by injuries — was a great motivation for the Indian. She wanted to congratulate her idol, but it was not possible at that time.

But Thomson’s influence on Richa Mishra was clearly visible. Later in the meet, she timed 2 minutes 19.58 seconds in the 200m butterfly qualifiers. In a sport which times to the hundredth, that performance could fetch her only 34th place in a 40-strong field, but it was enough to erase Bula Chowdhury’s 17-year-old record by 0.02 seconds.

“It’s disappointing that I could not achieve the qualifying mark for the Athens Olympics in Barcelona, but it was an eye-opener of sorts for me,” Richa, who won the 50m butterfly in the national aquatics at Subhas Sarobar on Wednesday, pointed out.

Shikha Tandon, on the other hand, notched up the best performance among the five Indians who had participated in the Barcelona championships. Incidentally, her timing of 58.32 in the 100m freestyle qualifiers — 0.4 seconds better than the required qualifying mark — is yet to be given an official recognition for a berth in the next year’s Olympics.

Richa and Shikha are the new young and energetic faces of the Indian swimming future, along with V. Sivaranjini, Ambika N.S. Iyenger and Rehan Poncha (the only male member of the quintet). Rehan, incidentally, has preferred a stint with Australian coach Bernie Mulroi in Perth to participating in the ongoing nationals.

All the four, when approached by The Telegraph, said Barcelona was a learning experience, but it also spawned up their craving for success in bigger international stages.

As Sivaranjani put it: “When you are rubbing shoulders with the best in the field, it gives you tremendous motivation. You can make out where you stand at the moment. But someone from your inside also kind of tells you there’s need to reach that stage.

“It was great motivation for us as well as a little bit of scary, too,” observed Ambika.

They have now set upon conquering new horizons. Some of them are eyeing the next month’s Afro-Asian Games as a platform to claim the Olympic berth, while others are going abroad for further training.

“You need a steady flow of international exposures to stay in contention on big occasions. The government’s response to such need is lukewarm,” Sivaranjani rued.

This was exactly the case with Richa. After her seven gold-winning performance in the Hyderabad nationals, she had no other meet to participate till her trip to Hungary for training after two months.

Richa, in fact, has some prize possessions from Barcelona — photographs with Ian Thorpe and Alexander Popov. “Whenever I see at the pictures, I feel inspired,” she said. The Indian swimmers may have returned from Barcelona empty-handed, but they have already sowed the seeds of a brighter future in those possessions.

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