The year 2023 has been one of highs and lows for India’s ace swimmer Srihari Nataraj. And the Bangalore boy has learnt to take both with a calm which belies his age.
At the National Games in Goa last month, Nataraj finished with a whopping 10 medals, of which eight were gold. Of those eight, four gold medals were in individual events. He was adjudged the best male athlete of the meet.
Flashback to the Hangzhou Asian Games in September where though Nataraj rewrote the national record in three events — two relays and in the 200m freestyle — a medal eluded him.
“That is all a part and parcel of an athlete’s life,” Nataraj told The Telegraph from Bangalore where he is taking a short break from training.
“I was sure that a couple of medals at the Asian Games would be mine. But that was not to happen. Now that is something all athletes have to be ready for. That, even with full preparation, a medal may not be guaranteed.”
After the Asian Games setback, it took him a while to get back into the groove. But he did, as he had done before too.
Nataraj intends to get back into full training this week. “I will work on my rhythm, my strokes and balance. One step at a time,” he said.
Nataraj, who will complete his MBA from the Jain University in Bangalore in June 2024, begins next year with the University Nationals in January.
The international circuit takes off in March where he intends to qualify with an ‘A’ mark for the Paris Olympics, as he had done for the Tokyo Games too.
(Swimmers who attain the ‘A’ standard, which is a steeper cut-off as compared to the ‘B’ standard, are eligible for automatic qualification to the Games.)
“I have made the ‘A’ cut before and I intend to do it again,” said Nataraj, quietly confident and with pride in his abilities.
“I always step up to give for myself, my state, my team or my country, whatever the situation demands,” he added.
So how does he prepare himself mentally for any big event? “I keep it simple. Every morning I wake up with the thought that I have to focus on the task at hand.
“One stroke at a time, one lap at a time and one race at a time. That’s my motto,” he said.
All his words reveal pretty mature thinking for one who is only 22. “I may be 22. But you have to remember that I have been swimming for 20 years now. Yes, I started at two and took part in my first event when I was four.
“My national career started in 2010, which is 13 years back. And now when you consider the fact that the youngsters I do my relays and mixed relays with now are 14, 15, 16-year-olds, you will understand that as far as swimming goes, I am no youngster,” he signed off with a laugh.