Sajan Prakash (pictured above) vividly remembers the day he had decided to shift his training base to Bengaluru. It was difficult for the Kerala youngster, who was brought up in Tamil Nadu, to stay away from the comforts of his home, but he knew that personal preferences should be kept aside to achieve bigger goals. Five years of intense training and competitions made the 22-year-old India’s best swimmer, and earned him a berth to the Olympics.
Shivani Kataria moved to the Garden City from Gurgaon four years ago to sharpen her swimming skills. The decision paid dividends recently as the 18-year-old earned a place in the Indian squad for the Rio Olympics.
The two swimmers, who got Universality Places (wildcard), are now training hard to give their fancied rivals a run for their money at the Olympic Aquatic Stadium in Rio.
Sajan will compete in the men’s 200 metre butterfly, while Shivani will be seen in action in the women’s 200 metre freestyle.
“The decision to train in Bengaluru changed my life,” said Prakash.
“Bengaluru helped me evolve as a competitive swimmer,” said a beaming Kataria.
The best coaches and weather
Nisha Millet reminisced that she wouldn’t have become an Olympian had she not shifted to Bengaluru from Chennai. “We are lucky to get the services of best Indian coaches, Pradeep and Nihar, here. The moderate climate allows swimmers to train throughout the year. The support of offered by schools and colleges too helps in making the city a swimming hub.”
Olympian Hakimuddin, who is the founder and principal consultant of Winning Matters Consulting, a sports consulting firm, says access to infrastructure, availability of best coaches and coaching programmes make the city the hub of competitive professional swimming. “To my knowledge, Bengaluru has the most number of 50 metre swimming pools in the country. Besides, the country’s top two coaches are based here,” he said.
“Good weather conditions allow swimming throughout the year. The city lies 1,000 metres above sea-level that helps swimmers get more training mileage at high intensity. Investments from high net worth individuals to form swim clubs too contribute in the growth of the sport,” he added.
Nihar Ameen too believes infrastructure and availability of best coaches are the major attractions in Bengaluru. “Swimmers from other parts of India move to the city to capitalise on these advantages,” said the coach who trained Asian Games medalists Virdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal.
However, he said Bengaluru's Olympic medal dream can be fulfilled only with corporate support. “Their support can help swimmers get access to latest technology and meet training expenses,” he said.
Health benefits of swimming
Even learn-to-swim classes are in huge demand here, as parents insist on their children learning the basic survival techniques.
Nisha, who runs Nisha Millet’s Swimming Academy, says residents are well aware of the health benefits of swimming. “We train a lot of senior citizens who suffer from health issues. The oldest person who learnt swimming from our academy was an 84-year-old,” said Nisha, whose academy has trained around 9,000 swimmers in the last 11 years.
Winning Matters has launched an initiative “Swimming Matters” to make swimming excellence and participation an integral part of Indian culture. The project that aims to enable more than a billion Indians to enjoy swimming safely and correctly, and help India win a gold medal in swimming at the Olympic Games, has already trained 40 swim teachers from some of the top schools, swim clubs and swim schools.
“India will win an Olympics swimming gold medal by 2024. With good background, I think Bengaluru is well placed to produce that gold medallist,” said Hakimuddin.