Indian swimmers Maana Patel and Srihari Nataraj made their debut at the Tokyo Games in the 100m backstroke heats on Sunday, a feat for their home country, with both happy to participate even though they didn't progress to the semifinals.
Patel and Nataraj, together with Sajan Prakash in the 200m freestyle, 100m and 200m butterfly, make up the largest Indian Olympic swimming cohort since 2008, when four swimmers qualified.
Nataraj and Prakash both qualified for Tokyo by making the Olympics A cut, a first for India.
Patel, who qualified via the universality quota and who was racing at her first Olympics, swam a time of 1:05.20 for the 100m backstroke.
"I am pretty happy because it was my best time … Going into the heat I was really fidgety and shivering, frankly. All the emotions piled up and I was overwhelmed," the 21-year old said after her race.
"But I am happy because I gave my 100%... Even if I don’t make it to finals, I’m happy to be here.”
The universality quota allows one female and male participant each from a country to take part in the Olympics, if no other swimmer of the same gender qualifies for the competition through the normal process.
Nataraj placed fifth in his heat in a time of 54.31 but the 20-year old was not quick enough to progress to the semis.
"It was fine and not so great at the same time. I felt ready for the race but I didn’t feel like it clicked. Maybe I let the pressure get to me. I am disappointed but I can live with it," he said after his race.
Prakash, who competed in the Rio Games, has wiped seconds off his times in recent months. The 27-year old registered for the Olympic A cut for the 200m butterfly, which he will race on Monday.
India has been hit hard by the pandemic, which swept the world's second-most populous nation last year, leaving athletes stuck in a lengthy shut down. Infections have surged again in a devastating second wave in 2021 with pools shut for lengthy periods.
Asked about the impact of the coronavirus on training in India, Nataraj said it had made it much harder.
"We were out of the water for seven months and even this year there has been a lot of breaks with the pools being shut down."
First Published: IST