A three-member Indian swimming team, including Srihari Nataraj, will leave for Serbia on Tuesday night to compete in the Belgrade Trophy, a FINA-accredited Olympic qualifying event.
The event is scheduled to be on June 19 and 20. Sajan Prakash is presently training in Dubai and is expected to join the team in Belgrade by June 12.
Apart from Olympic 'B' qualifying mark achievers Nataraj and Prakash, who are hoping to make the A qualification mark, the team comprises seasoned back stroker Maana Patel, who recently returned to form at an international meet in Uzbekistan.
There will be youngsters Aryan Nehra, Shoan Ganguli, Tanish Mathew and Kenisha Gupta who are part of the TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme) group and have been showing great promise. The team, sans Nehra and Ganguli (who did not meet the qualification times), will travel to Rome on June 23 to take part in the annual Sette Colli Trophy which is also a FINA-accredited Olympic Qualifying event, to be held on June 25, 26 and 27.
They will be accompanied by seasoned coaches Nihar Ameen and Pradeep Kumar.
In April this year, the Indian swimmers had participated in the Uzbekistan Open, which was their first international meet since the COVID-19 lockdown in March last year.
''The Indian swimmers, particularly Srihari Nataraj, had done exceedingly well in the Uzbekistan Open and got closer to the A qualifying time in the 100m backstroke event,'' said Swimming Federation of India (SFI) executive director Virender Nanavati. ''... Sajan Parkash, Kenisha Gupta and Maana Patel posted impressive performances in their respective events. ''They have been shaping up really well and we are hopeful that they will be able to achieve the qualifying mark before the cutoff date.'' SFI secretary general Monal Chokshi emphasised that the competition in Belgrade and Rome will not only be a great opportunity for the Olympic hopefuls to qualify but this will also provide a good exposure for the swimmers preparing for the forthcoming Asian Games in 2022. ''Upon their arrival in Belgrade, the Indian swimmers will be stationed at the Serbian National Swim Team training facility. This will provide a great exposure for our swimmers ahead of the two Qualifying meets. ''The squad is in good form, and we are expecting them to swim faster than what they did in Uzbekistan in April,'' said Chokshi.
Of the six Indian swimmers who have clocked the B qualifying time so far, three of them are currently training in the USA.
Kushagra Rawat and Advait Page will be participating at the last qualification meet in USA from June 24-27. ''SFI is hopeful that one or more of our swimmers will achieve the A cut for Olympic Games Tokyo 2020,'' added Chokshi.
SFI president RN Jayaprakash expressed his gratitude to Sports Ministry, the External Affairs Ministry and Sports Authority of India for clearing this trip.
Squad for Belgrade Trophy: Srihari Nataraj (50m & 100m Backstroke), Sajan Prakash (100 & 200m Butterfly, 200m Freestyle), Maana Patel (100m Backstroke), Kenisha Gupta (50m & 100m Freestyle), Tanish Mathew (100m,200m Butterfly,200 Free), Aryan Nehra (200m,400m,1500m Freestyle), Shoan Ganguli ( 200m,400m Individual Medley, 100,200m Butterfly) Squad for Setti Colli Trophy in Rome: Srihari Nataraj (50m & 100m Backstroke), Sajan Prakash (100 & 200m Butterfly, 200m Freestyle), Maana Patel (100m Backstroke), Kenisha Gupta (50m & 100m Freestyle), Tanish Mathew (200m Freestyle, 200m Butterfly).