| Nisha Millet shows off her 400m freestyle gold in Calcutta Wednesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: There has been a strong suspicion that Nisha Millet’s days are numbered following her surgery on the spine last year. But the triple national record-holder proved the Doubting Thomases wrong in a spectacular way, adding the fourth to her kitty en route to winning the 400m freestyle on the opening day of the 57th national aquatic championships at Subhas Sarobar Wednesday.
Two more national records were erased on the day, including K. Rajiv’s special achievement of bettering his own heats mark achieved in the 50m butterfly, in the final. Hosts Bengal, on the other hand, had absolutely nothing to cheer. But the day clearly belonged to Nisha as she ruled the pool with sheer determination and devotion to the task at hand.
“It’s very exciting to come back in such a way. After the 2000 Olympics, a spate of injuries forced me to recede to the background and then, everybody started doubting that I might be finished,” Nisha told reporters soon after her record-breaking performance.
“Then I had to undergo a surgery (in September last year in Coimbatore) to remove a benign tumour on my spine. As speculation was on about my future, I was getting more determined to strike back,” the 21-year-old remarked.
She participated in the Hyderabad nationals last year, but only managed to scoop up a silver (100 backstroke) and a bronze (200m backstroke).
“She was crazy. She took part in Hyderabad against the doctors’ advice,” commented her father. But Nisha maintained that tournament gave her confidence to make it big again.
Spectators and competitors had a taste of her confidence and determination on Wednesday when she was simply unconquerable on the pool. She opened up a lead of about half-a-metre on the first turn and after the third turn she stretched it to more than a metre.
Her Karnataka teammate V. Sivaranjini did push herself to catch the leader, but Nisha was well ahead of the field and completed the race at 4:33.54 seconds — bettering Shikha Tandon’s 1998 record by a good 04.40 seconds.
Nisha attributed her success in the post-surgery period to the stint with Australian coach Bernie Mulroy in Perth, where she is going again in November. “My immediate target is to win a gold at the Afro-Asian Games and then qualify for the Olympics,” an elated Nisha said.
The day’s show also belonged to young Keralite K. Rajiv. He broke Maharashtra’s Shane Pedder’s 1997 record of 26.44 with a timing of 26.37 in the 50m butterfly heat and then bettered that mark by 0.10 seconds in the final. Bengal’s Akbar Ali Mir finished last with a poor timing of 27.88. “I really don’t know what happened today,” Mir said before leaving the stage in haste.
Richa Mishra began from where she had left the stage in Hyderabad, where she had won nine golds.
She started her hunt for gold with a record-breaking performance in 50m butterfly. Her timing of 30.55 was 0.2 seconds better than Meghna Narayan’s 1998 mark. Bengal’s Tagari Baidya’s timing of 35.60 only fetched her the last place.
Samir Das, another promising Bengal swimmer, managed a sixth place at 1:05.46 in the 100m backstroke final.
MEN — 400m freestyle: 1. Mandar Anand Divase (Pol) 4:13.33; 2. Kailash Nath (Pol) 4:16.41; Terismon Thomas (SSCB) 4:21.91. 100m backstroke: 1. T.K. Senthil Kumar (Pol) 1:01.98; 2. Dipesh Bairagi (RSPB) 1:02.21; 3. Joshy Joseph (SSCB) 1:04.12. 50m butterfly: 1. K. Rajiv (Ker) 26.27; 2. Rahul Batra (Kar) 26.50; 3. R. Anil Kumar (SSCB) 26.92. WOMEN — 400m freestyle: 1. Nisha Millet (Kar) 4:33.54 (NR); 2. V. Sivaranjani (Kar) 4:41.68; 3. Bhavana Sharma (Pol) 4:51.43. 100m breaststroke: 1. Ambika N.S. Iyenger (Kar) 1:19.93; 2. Bhavana Sharma (Pol) 1:20.39; D. Mrudula (Kar) 1:21.59. 50m butterfly: Richa Mishra (Pol) 30.55 (NR); 2. C. Shubha (Kar) 30.67; B. Praveena (Ker) 32.73.