Indian swimmers have never been among the favourites at the Olympics. But this year, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, might mark a positive change in that direction, with two Indian swimmers earning direct qualification for the event for the first time ever. Srihari Nataraj followed in the footsteps of Sajan Prakash, after the latter created history over the weekend.

Prakash became the first ever Indian swimmer to breach the FINA “A” Olympic qualification time by clocking a national record 1:56.38 in the 200m butterfly event, at the 2021 Sette Colli Trophy in Rome.

 

 

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At age 27, Kerala-born police officer Prakash’s feat is especially remarkable, given that late 20s are usually considered to be the twilight of a swimmer’s career. And this wasn’t even the only battle that he had to overcome in his journey en route Tokyo.

Prakash had suffered a slipped disc in the neck, which forced him out of action in December 2019. Following rehabilitation, he shifted base to Phuket in Thailand to train at the FINA Aquatic Centre, but the first global wave of the pandemic meant that he couldn’t even take a single dip in the pool due to lockdown measures.

 

 

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He found himself in a spot of bother, before coach Pradeep Kumar came to the rescue. He invited Prakash to Dubai, where he is based.

“I must thank sir for believing in me after all that happened. When I landed in Dubai, I was emotionally and mentally broken. I had dealt with an injury for more than a year and I had to start from scratch. It was challenging, but sir has worked magic,” the 2016 Olympian told the Times of India.

 

 

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“Dubai is an expensive city to live in and Pradeep sir offered to host me. I don’t think many coaches would be willing to do that. Sir’s wife Gowri aunty played a huge role in my comeback. She looked after my needs. At my worst times, she cooked the best meals and helped me recover,” he added.

In Dubai, the neck injury posed a challenge for Prakash to start the butterfly stroke again. “Given the injury, I was even scared to dive. In August, I couldn’t swim butterfly and it wasn’t until mid-October I was comfortable with the stroke. In between I took part in a local event in Dubai but that was only in freestyle events,” revealed Sajan.

 

 

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But all the hard work paid off in Rome eventually. Prakash is all set to participate in the second Olympic games of his career, making his mother particularly proud. He is the son of VJ Shantymol, a former athlete, who has represented India in several national and international events.

While growing up, Prakash finished his schooling from St. Paul’s Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Jawahar Higher Secondary School, Neyveli, Tamil Nadu. He completed his graduation in computer applications from Annamalai University, Chidambaram, before joining the police force in Kerala.

 

 

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At the 2015 National Games in Kerala, he had grabbed headlines by winning 6 gold and 3 Silver medals, in Trivandrum. As of June 2021, he is the holder of 11 Indian national swimming records in events spanning freestyle, butterfly, medley and relay categories, according to his Wikipedia page.

Images: Instagram/Sajan Prakash