Less than three days after the magical run in the 100m backstroke event where he timed 53.77, Srihari received the official nod from FINA, the world governing body for swimming.
It was a dream realised for the 20-year-old product of Dolphin Aquatics, who had missed the ‘A’ qualification mark of 53.85 seconds by five microseconds at the Sette Colli Trophy in Rome on Saturday. It was also a memorable moment for the country as the Bengalurean joined Sajan Prakash in an elite club of Indian swimmers to have made the ‘A’ cut.
Thank you so much for your support, help, and encouragement sir. https://t.co/t2unlyAJc5
— Srihari Nataraj (@srihari3529) 1625039872000
Srihari, who returned to the city on Wednesday, was calm as he spoke about his path to Tokyo.
“I had three good meets but got the job done later than planned. During the phase, there was some good progress coupled with some ups and downs but we still managed to get through. As for the time trial, I prepared for it like I would for any other race, I didn’t allow any pressure to get to me,” the Nihar Ameen ward told TOI.
Speaking about the lengthy Covid-induced absence from the sport, Srihari said: “I missed the pool but it is what it is. I worked on my fitness at home. Tried my hand at learning to play guitar, played some cricket and tennis,” he said.
Srihari’s qualification was pushed to the last moment as he found himself in slower heats after the time that he set at the controversy-ridden Uzbekistan Open event was declared null and void when the meet was stripped of its status as an Olympic qualifier recently.
Olympic qualification update! Srihari Nataraj Olympic qualification time of 53:77 swam in the time trial at the Set… https://t.co/8pfxaJgOKb
— @swimmingfederationofindia (@swimmingfedera1) 1625027432000
“It was a little disappointing because my time was legit and we had proof for it. I understand the whole thing had to be taken down, but being in a faster heat would have made a huge difference,” added Srihari.
As the youngster prepares for his maiden Olympics journey, he believes it is the beginning of good times for Indian swimming.
“Two of us qualifying with ‘A’ times shows that we can do a lot more than what we have done. We just have to find ways to do it. It is in me. In my case, I trained like a madman over the past few months. I did not take a day off unless I was forced to like in the case of the lockdown. Other than that, I haven’t taken a session off. I know the difference it has made to knock off half a second,” the youngster pointed out.
Nihar, the champion coach, said, “Srihari’s talent was never in question. He is a world class talent but the setback came from the pools being closed. But I’m glad the glass ceiling has been broken.”