Watching the aquatic events at the ongoing London Olympics has been a revelation in more ways than one.
From the robot, assembly-line-like lithe bodies to eclectic fingernail paint and oh-so-chic swimming goggles, there’s something to pique the imagination of every kind of sports buff.
Take for example the Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte who became the first 15-year-old Olympic swimming champion for 40 years when she powered to the 100m breaststroke gold medal on Monday. Or the one-man swimming power force, Michael Phelps who is defying logic, Olympic pundits and record books with his exploits in the pool.
Traditionally, the United States, Australia and China have dominated the pool. This time, countries like South Africa, France, Japan, Denmark and Italy and of course, the home country, Great Britain have also lit up the pool. Watching this flourish of stunning talent on display, one was drawn back to the day, when as a cub reporter on the sports beat, one had to do the rounds of some of the city’s swimming arenas.
The woes began at the very basic level, with the water. One shuddered to be in the participant’s shoes to actually have to take a dive into notoriously unhygienic-looking water. It appeared awfully unfit for any kind of activity, let alone a school or college level competition.
Next up, the officials seemed to be in picnic mode. Clearly, the competition would begin and end according to their whims. The gear of participants reeked of inconsistency. While a few from the well-off, international schools sported branded swimsuits, their counterparts from the ‘lesser’ schools had to make do with appalling versions that were normally seen at a beach side splash. But naturally, such disparities made a huge difference to timings.
Later, as one began to follow the likes of Nisha Millet and co. the picture improved at bit, at least at the national level. Yet, the inherent indifference that the sport received in comparison to other disciplines was unfortunate. Be it maintenance of swimming pools, the import of experts from swimming powerhouses, well-constructed, pre-competition camps, international exposure, there was a lack of input and interest from most quarters. Little wonder then, we haven’t been able to create a ripple in the pool, not even at the Asian level. Even more reason to applaud Khazan Singh Tokas’ silver medal winning effort at the 1986 Asiad.
Flash forward to the present. Images of adolescent teenagers from matchbox-sized countries, creating a stir in the pool make for great visuals, and engaging copy, more importantly. One hopes that our gods awake from their deep slumber, take a page from these success storybooks, and begin to make changes at the very basic level: clean pools, better gear and qualified support. Forget about Phelps, we could do with a few more Khazan Singhs and Nisha Millets at the very least.
— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY