Sajan Prakash (200m butterfly) and Srihari Nataraj (100m backstroke) set a new high for Indian swimming late last month when they met the Olympic Qualifying Time (‘A’ cut) for this month’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. Indian swimmers had never attempted anything like this before.
In fact, in the past, even meeting the Olympic Selection Time (‘B’ cut) has proven challenging, and India’s participation in the quadrennial Games was based on the Universality Quota.
Maana Patel, who will compete in the women’s 100m backstroke as part of the Universality Quota, will join Prakash and Nataraj in Tokyo, bringing the total number of Indian swimmers to three in the 32nd Summer Olympics.
The swimming great of the 1980s and Asian Games silver medallist – Khajan Singh Tokas – felt that while these three traveling to the Olympics is an achievement, it should not become the pinnacle of Indian swimming.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, 57-year-old Tokas said:
“I strongly feel that the Tokyo Olympics is not the real target for us today. Maybe, in four to six years, we can think about medals at the Olympics. The three swimmers qualifying for the Olympic Games is a positive sign and India should now target the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.”In India, there are eight to ten swimmers who are doing a fantastic job. I am confident that by giving them with the best training facilities, the Indian swimmers will perform significantly better at the Asian Games.”
Tokas, who competed in the Seoul Olympics in 1988, said:
“The Tokyo Olympics will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them. It will serve as incentive for other swimmers who have always believed that qualifying for the Olympics was difficult. These three have broken through that barrier. Having said that, Indian swimmers should focus on the Asian and Commonwealth Games before ever considering an Olympic medal.”
Tokas took home a silver medal in the event.
India won a medal in the 200m butterfly at the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul, ending a 35-year drought. The country had previously won six medals at the inaugural Asian Games in New Delhi in 1951. After Tokas, India only managed two additional Asian Games medals: Virdhawal Khade (50m butterfly, 2010 Guangzhou Asiad) and Sandeep Sejwal (100m freestyle, 2010 Guangzhou Asiad) (50m backstroke, 2014 Incheon Asiad).
India is currently in a good position to win the Asian Games for the first time in eight years next year. Tokas stated,
“I got an Asiad silver,” says the narrator. Khade and Sejwal were then awarded bronze medals. Winning a few medals here and there won’t help us in the long run. In the Asian Games, we should aim for five to eight medals. They are capable of completing the task. If I could do it without much help in the 1980s, today’s swimmers can accomplish it with a lot of help, such as money, equipment, and international exposure.”
“There were no international tournaments while I was growing up. “The swimming scene in India is about to improve,” said Tokas, who is currently assigned to the CRPF as a DIG in Navi Mumbai.
Tokas was asked why there was such a long gap between his Asian medal in 1986 and India’s victory 24 years later.
There was a belief that Indian swimmers would never win a medal. Second, because it was assumed that Indian swimmers would fail to qualify for the Asian Games, there was no sufficient backing from the government, parents, or the federation. As a result, this Olympic qualifying will assist India in winning six to eight medals next year, and if we win, we will receive widespread support.”
Tokas remembers the difficulties he had as a national champion swimmer. He stated, “
The senior national championships and my departmental events were the only competitions I had at the time. When Wilson Cherian, Bula Choudhury, and I went to the Asian Games in 1986, we spent nine months in Australia training with outstanding coach Eric Arnold in New South Wales. ” “We were concerned about the swimmers present. We began to gain confidence after we began training and participating in contests organized there.”
“After that, we were without a foreign coach and had to practice on our own when we returned to India. This ruined the last three months. Following that, the Australian coach agreed to come to India for three months, allowing us to train with him prior to the Asian Games.” “I improved so much in the 200m butterfly that my time plummeted from 2:14s to 2:03s or 2:02s.” Despite the fact that the foreign coach was not permitted to accompany me to the Asian Games since no foreign coach was permitted to accompany India at the time, I acquired confidence and ran 2:02.38s for silver in the Asian Games.”
“I was overjoyed when my time reduced by ten seconds in a year, despite the fact that it was not simple. That was the turning point in my life.”
Tokas said that despite qualifying for the 1988 Olympics with a time of 1:59s, he failed to win a medal. He confessed that winning a medal as a 26-year-old was difficult. Tokas stated,
“Training alone in India was quite difficult. You now have excellent instructors and facilities. Because the government asked me to peak before the Games and qualify for the remaining six spots, I knew a medal at the Olympics was out of the question. To win an Olympic medal, I had to peak at the proper time. You won’t be able to peak whenever you want.”
“I had only been at my best for a month when I qualified for the 1988 Olympics. In the Games, however, the same timing was not possible. I would have been a finalist in the Olympics if I had done it at the same time. The goal back then was to get to the Olympics because I had won an Asian Games medal. They wanted my best in qualification, not at the Olympics,” says the athlete.
Tokas finished 28th in the 200m butterfly heats at the Seoul Games, clocking 2:03.95s.