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After sealing Olympic berth, swimmer Nataraj's big test starts (Ld, correcting headline)

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Mumbai, July 1 (IANS) Young Indian swimmer Srihari Nataraj has trained like a “madman”, without any break for 15-odd months as he chased the ‘A’ standard qualification mark in the 100m backstroke for a confirmed berth in the Tokyo Olympic Games. He achieved that on Wednesday when his berth was confirmed.

With just over 22 days to go for the start of the Olympic Games, the dream came true for 20-year-old Nataraj, who had achieved the ‘B’ qualification mark in the FINA World Junior Championship in 2019, as his qualification time, set in a separate time trial at Rome, was approved by FINA, the sport’s world governing body on Wednesday.

“Srihari Nataraj Olympic qualification time of 53:77 [secs] swam in the time trial at the Sette Colli Trophy is affirmed by FINA. SFI had put forward its representation to FINA for this..Srihari joins Sajan Prakash as India’s A qualification entry to Tokyo,” the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) tweeted on Wednesday.

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But the bigger test for Nataraj starts now — to achieve his second dream and reach the semi-finals in 100m backstroke. To do that, Nataraj will not only have to continue training like a “madman”, but also overcome the added hurdle of three days of extra quarantine to be imposed on Indian participants after they land in Tokyo.

Nataraj has returned to Bangalore after his Rome trip, and he would leave for Tokyo from there.

Sajan Prakash, the other Indian who has achieved the ‘A’ qualification mark, will continue to train in Dubai and thus will not have to undergo the three days of quarantine in Tokyo. The local government in Tokyo has imposed these extra measures on sportspersons from 11 countries, including India and the United Kingdom.

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The new measures does not make it clear whether Nataraj would get access to the pool during that three-day period, though he will get to do his land training. The rules allow sportspersons under special quarantine to train in isolation but it is not clear how the organisers will manage it.

However for the time being, Nataraj is not thinking that far.

“I am not thinking so far away as of now. I have not been officially informed of these rules yet. I will soon sit down with coach Nihar sir and other members of my team and plan for the Olympics. I have trained like a madman daily, without any break in the last 14-15 months,” Nataraj told IANS.

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Having fulfilled his dream, Nataraj is relieved as it happened in difficult circumstances and came on the last day of the qualification period.

“I am mighty relieved to get the ‘A’ qualification mark. Happy that it had happened eventually. It was a big thing in my head for more than a year,” said Nataraj.

The target for Nataraj now is to make it to the semi-finals in his pet event — 100m backstroke.

–IANS

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