JAKARTA: He was initiated into swimming at the age of two, won his first medal at five, has three national records against his name, and he has not yet turned 18. Srihari Nataraj is the next big thing in Indian swimming and has already fixed his next target – an Olympic medal before turning 23.
The swimmer from Karnataka ticked an important box on his to-do-list at the Asiad on Sunday by reaching the finals of the 100m backstroke – a first by an Indian in the event since 1986 – with a national record to boot. Though he missed out on winning a medal, he believes the experience will help him in achieving his Olympic goal. He also set a national record in 50m backstroke at the Games on Monday. “This year I am aiming to win a medal in the Youth Olympics in October and this is something that my coach and I feel that is achievable, though we know we need to work a little harder and fix certain things. As far as long-term goals are concerned, I am targeting to qualify for the finals at the Tokyo Olympics and win a medal in the 2024 Olympics, if not in 2020 itself,” the 17-year-old swimmer told TOI on Monday.
Hailing from a family of sportspersons, mostly cricketers and swimmers, Nataraj found himself trying to learn the tricks of swimming at a very early age when his mother took him to an academy in Bengaluru. Since then, there has been no looking back.
“I was very young when I was taken for swimming. My bother used to swim, he is seven-year older to me. My mother one day decided to take me to the pool and the rest is history,” he said.
“I took part in my first meet when I was five and won two gold medals there. I enjoyed winning. Even now I don’t want to lose. I enjoy the hard work and the pain that comes with races and workouts. I am happy doing it.”
The young swimmer, not surprisingly, is inspired by Michael Phelps and tries to follow the American swimmer’s work ethics. “When I was younger I idolised Rohit Havaldar and as I grew up, I started liking Michael Phelps. I like his work ethics. He personifies perfection. That’s how I want to be. I want to be perfect. If I am competing in a backstroke race, I want to swim the perfect race.”
The swimmer, who also participated in the CWG after starting his international career at the age of 14, says that to have a perfect race he must work on certain aspects of his game. “I am working with my coach on new techniques like having more power and stability. In the 100m final here, everyone took half-a-body length lead in the dive. I caught up with them during the swim but they took the lead again because my underwater kick is weak. We have to work on these things now.”
Srihari said he would also like to have better facilities. “There are only two pools in India which are like the ones used here at the Asian Games, at Talkatora (Delhi) and other in Bengaluru. For backstroke swimmers, Fina has introduced an anti-slip grip. We don’t have it in India. It took me four to five days to adjust to it.”