Thiruvananthapuram, July 19(BPNS)
Olympian Sebastian Xavier was one of the prominent faces of Indian swimming in the late eighties and early nineties and has to his credit 75 gold at the national level and 40 gold medals at the International level. A participant of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and a winner of the prestigious Arjuna Award. He had participated in the 1990,1994 and 1998 Asian games. Currently a Senior Sports officer with the Indian Railways. Sebastian Xavier speaks exclusively to IANS on the prospects of the Indian swimmers at the Tokyo Olympics
BPNS: India is pinning its hope of Sajan Prakash in the Tokyo Olympics. As an Olympian who participated in swimming in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, how do you rate his chances?
S Xavier: Sajan Prakash, Srihari Nataraj, and Maana Patel are the three who have qualified in swimming to participate in the Tokyo Olympics. Of this Sajan Prakash is the first-ever Indian swimmer to make Olympic ‘A’ cut and Srihari Nataraj is the second swimmer to get an Olympic ‘A’ cut in 100 m backstrokes for the Olympics. This in itself is a major achievement and this shows that Indian swimming is on a fast forward course. These swimmers reaching the Finals in itself will be a major breakthrough as far as Indian swimming is concerned and several youngsters will blossom as swimmers if these three perform exceedingly well at Tokyo. I am expecting a major breakthrough from Sajan and Srihari.
BPNS: How has Covid-19 affected the preparations of swimmers?
S Xavier: Covid-19 has created major problems for all the sports items across the globe and even the Olympics has to be postponed a year and is now conducted under strict Covid protocol. However, I must say that the sport most affected due to the Covid pandemic is swimming as swimmers had several restrictions to train affecting their performances. However, our swimmers have overcome these difficulties.
BPNS: You represented the Country in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Please share your Olympic memories?
S Xavier: Atlanta was amazing. I could meet many legends on and off the field. Several greats and world-renowned Athletes, swimmers, and sports persons were there. The presence of Alexandar Popov of Russia considered the greatest swimmer in the 50 and 100 m categories was my most cherished moment. He had won gold in both categories in the 1992 Olympics and defended the title in the 1996 Atlanta games where I was also present. Popov held the world record in the 50m category for eight years and 100 m for six years.
BPNS: How do you rate world swimming during your days and the present time?
S Xavier: During my period, Asians were the world record holders and great swimmers. Hence we could not get anything from even the Asian games but now we are competing with them and can take on them. This is a clear indicator that Swimming as a sport is coming of age in India.
BPNS: While China and Japan has excellent swimmers or rather world-class swimmers, why are our are swimmers lagging behind?
S Xavier: We are already 25 years behind these countries in all aspects like infrastructure, training and other facilities but are slowly but surely catching up with them. This is a good sign but winning is very important and for that, we need more to be done regarding infrastructure and training. However, I think we are now battle-ready.
BPNS: Are there ample of domestic swimming competitions in India to scout new talents?
S Xavier: Yes lot of tournaments are taking place in the country and new blood is coming up. We will have to see how many would perform at the highest level and to stay on top. There should be a lot of mental and physical conditioning for that and international competitions are on a different level.
BPNS: Please tell us about the future of Indian swimming
S Xavier: As I told earlier, Indian swimming is coming of age and with a lot of domestic competitions, and tournaments, several young talents are coming up. I must say that there has to be sustained and regular training coming up to achieve success at the top. More Sajan Prakash’s and more Srihari Natarajan should come from this country as world beaters and I expect that in the days to come.