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Shikha Tandon aiming higher

Calcutta: For an eight-year-old, the pains of living should not be a burden on one’s growth.

Shikha Tandon’s career as a swimmer, however, germinated in such an incident of family crisis. She grew up seeing her brother, Shobhit, struggling to get over asthma. She once heard doctors advising her brother to take up swimming as a means of tackling his distress. Then, partly out of fear and partly out of her parents’ insistence, Shikha accompanied her brother in pools and gradually fell in love with water.

Ten years down the line, what had started purely as an apprehensive check against asthma, may now have come a circle for the 18-year-old. Shikha has attained the qualifying marks in 50m freestyle for next year’s Olympics and bagged her maiden best swimmer’s award in the 57th senior nationals, which concluded here on Monday

But Shikha is not drawing the line. “It’s just the beginning which I have been aiming for. The roads ahead are more challenging, more competitive. If I can survive such pressures, it will then be more satisfying,” Shikha told The Telegraph.

The pragmatism of the Karnataka girl, therefore, seems to have prevented her from making any promise. She said she would chart unknown waters in the Afro-Asian Games next month since she is not aware of her rivals’ identity. “I don’t know who are coming and from where. But certainly it will be a tough competition,” she said.

Thereafter, she will be heading either to the US or Brisbane for fine-tuning her freestyle skills. Her eyes are trained obviously on Athens, or may be beyond that. “Don’t expect too much from me now. I will be more than happy if I finish at the top-16 there. But Beijing (2008 Olympics) is my real target,” observes the B.Sc first-year student in bio-tech (genetics). She will be 23 by the 2008 — an age she picks as the ideal one for a swimmer to peak.

Shikha is, in fact, one of the leading female faces of the Indian swimming future, along with Nisha Millet (who already participated in the Sydney Olympics), V. Shivaranjani, Ambica Iyenger and Richa Mishra. Apart from Richa, all others are based in Bangalore — the hub of Indian swimming at present.

She made it a point that the Banglaore model has been actually honing their talents up. “We have excellent facilities, including four-five 50m length pools, highly qualified coaches (like Nihar Ameen and Pradeep Kumar) there. Besides, weather is also quite conducive to practise for long,” she opined.

Shikha, incidentally, is no hero-worshipper. “I have no idols. I just watch the world’s best and try to pick one or two tips from their way of swimming,” she said.

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