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Blind swimmer Kanchanmala Pande returns home empty-handed

Blind swimmer from Amravati missed out on a podium at the IBSA World Games as she was not aware of the rule-change that all participants (totally and partially blind) will compete together

Kanchanmala Pande, India's sole hope in the pool at the 2015 IBSA (International Blind Sports Federation) World Games held at Seoul, South Korea recently, missed out on the podium due to sudden changes in the rules which she wasn't aware of.

Kanchanmala Pande
Kanchanmala Pande 

Consequently, despite clocking her personal best times, she returned home empty-handed after finishing fourth in one event and fifth in three other events.

The 24-year-old blind swimmer from Amravati finished fourth in the 200m freestyle category with a timing of 3:32.31secs.

She finished fifth in 100m breaststroke (02:01.40secs), 100m backstroke (01:44.70secs) and 50m backstroke (00:47.80secs). She also posted a timing of 01:39.02secs in the heats of the 100m freestyle event.

Kanchanmala Pande during one of her practice sessions at Amravati's Shri Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal swimming pool
Kanchanmala Pande during one of her practice sessions at Amravati's Shri Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal swimming pool 

Pande, who had expected at least a couple of medals from the event, attributed her lack of silverware in Seoul to new changes in regulations.

"In Seoul for the first time, swimmers from the B1 category (totally blind) and those from the B2 and B3 categories (partially blind) competed together.

I did not know about this until the startlist was put out for my first race. I knew immediately that my chances of winning medals were drastically reduced," said Kanchanmala, a first year student of MA in Political Science.

Race without coach
Kanchanmala was also peeved that she was not allowed to take her coach Lakshmikant Khandagade with her to South Korea. Instead, she was forced to take her sister as a guide to help her race.

While she might have lost out on medals in all five of her events, she can draw hope from the fact that she bettered all her timings at Seoul.

For now, Kanchanmala plans to hit the Shri Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal pool in Amravati, where she trains for three hours in the morning and three more in the evening under the watchful eyes of coach Khandagade as has been her daily routine ever since she learnt the sport 14 years ago.

For most 10-year-olds, entering the swimming pool for the first time can be a daunting task. For Kanchanmala, however, swimming came as naturally as breathing.

"While most children with vision are afraid of stepping into the pool for the first time, Kanchan was only too eager to swim," recalled her father Dnyaneshwar Pande.

"Such was her interest in the sport that it took her just eight days to learn to swim with the proper technique."

It was this zest for swimming that saw her make it to India's squad for the Melbourne Commonwealth Para Games in 2006.

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