The Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence in Bengaluru is playing host for the 10th Annual Asian Age Group Swimming Championships, where athletes from all over the continent will compete in swimming, artistic swimming, water polo and diving. The event holds huge weightage, as it also serves as a qualifier for the Olympics and many of India’s ace swimmers will compete to book their berth for the Tokyo Games in 2020. All eyes will be on Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj as they inch closer to an Olympic berth.
While Prakash has cleared the B-Mark in the 200m butterfly, Nataraj has done so for 100m backstroke event and if recent form is anything to go by, the latter will be center of attention at the event. At the 73rd Glenmark Senior National Aquatic Championship earlier in the month, Nataraj captured gold in the 100m freestyle, 50m backstroke and 100m backstroke events while also claiming the national record in both backstroke events. While his performances have already wowed the aquatic circuit in India, perhaps what has wowed most about Nataraj is that the Bengaluru-based swimmer turned 18 in January of this year.
The term ‘teen sensation’ is often thrown around too casually but in Nataraj’s case, that holds true. The swimmer has been winning titles at the since level since the start of this decade and is only getting better every time he takes a dive into the pool. At the Asian Games in 2018, Narataj cleared the B-Mark for World Championships in 100m and 200m backstroke events, clocking in at 55.86s and 2:02.37s, respectively. Just months later, he clocked in at 54.18s in the 100m and achieved the B-Mark for the Olympics, a staggering improvement in a miniscule amount of time.
India's 🇮🇳 Srihari Nataraj qualifies for the final of the 100M backstroke at the 7th FINA World Junior Swimming Championships 2019.
— Naveen Peter (@peterspeaking) August 20, 2019
Racing since he was 5, Nataraj already boasts of a solid resume at the national level, but he dreams of much more than dominating at that level. His mastery of the backstroke is staggering, and he currently just 0.84s off the A-Mark for Tokyo 2020 in the 100m event. Nataraj sits on the brink of history. If he manages to clear the hurdle, he will become the first Indian ever to compete at the Olympics. At 19, Micheal Phelps made it to his first ever Olympic Games. And if all goes well, a 19-year-old Srihari Nataraj will be on a flight to Tokyo less than a year from today.
Written by: Sportz Interactive