Bengaluru, Sep 27 (IANS) Five days before the start of the National Games swimming competition in the Sardar Patel Swimming Complex in Rajkot, India’s best swimmer Srihari Nataraj insists that competing in the National Games already feel different since it will be bigger and better experience, even though the same set of swimmers who compete regularly at the National level will be vying for honours.
“The National Games is a whole new meet to me,” said Srihari Natraj, who will be competing in his first-ever National Games.
“I am glad Gujarat stepped in to host the National Games after seven years. It has been a long wait for all of us,” said Srihari Natraj, who finished fifth and seventh in the 50m and 100m Backstroke events in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham recently.
Srihari Natraj, however, doesn’t have happy memories of Rajkot, where he last competed 10-years ago but is confident that things are different this time around. “I do not remember much from the National Sub-Junior Championships in 2012. But it was the only National Championships in my life that I did not medal in. That’s not going to be the case this time, for sure. It will seem like a new city for me.”
Though Srihari Natraj did not participate in the 2015 National Games, he remembers Sajan Prakash dominating the pool with six gold medals then. He has also read up about the time when Virdhawal Khade won eight gold, including in the 50m and 100m Backstroke events, in 2011 Ranchi National Games.
Srihari Natraj is also aware that the Best Athlete of the National Games has almost always emerged from the swimming pool. Though, he is not conceding a walk-over to Sajan Prakash, the 21-year-old thinks the senior swimmer may edge him out in the race.
“It would be great to get that prize, but I have five individual events while Sajan has entered many more,” he said.
Srihari Natraj revealed that he will focus on the 50m Freestyle and 100m Freestyle sprints. “I have a couple of personal goals in Rajkot, including winning all five individual events that I am entered in. If I achieve them, I will be happy,” he said, adding, “It might be a contest between Sajan and I in the one or two events that we go head-to-head.”
The 21-year-old had skipped the recent National Championships in Guwahati, held soon after the Commonwealth Games, and utilised the time to prepare for the National Games.
“We are at the end of a long season. Besides, I was not well for a week on return from Birmingham. That break gave me extra time to prepare myself for the National Games. And I must say I am now well-rested, prepared and feeling good in the water.”
Srihari Nataraj will also be helming a strong Karnataka swim team. “We have a bunch of youngsters who are coming up. Only a handful of us are over 18 years of age. We believe we are ready to take on any challenge, even if Maharashtra were at full strength,” he said, confident that the swimmers would contribute significantly to Karnataka’s medal haul in the National Games.