Olympics beckon for Ban­ga­lore swim­mer

Sunday Tribune - - HERALD - THAHIR ASMAL

AT THE age of 14, Karan Ko­taraju left his home in Ban­ga­lore, In­dia, on a quest to re­alise his dream of be­com­ing an Olympic swim­mer – which brought him to South Africa.

Three years later, un­der the watch of Swim­ming South Africa head coach Graham Hill, he has de­vel­oped into one of In­dia’s most promis­ing ju­nior swim­mers.

Karan is now pre­par­ing for the

2018 Sum­mer Youth Olympics in Ar­gentina in Oc­to­ber. He landed a spot on the In­dian team af­ter he clocked a 100m freestyle qual­i­fy­ing time at the Na­tional Aquat­ics Cham­pi­onships held in Port El­iz­a­beth re­cently.

The trip to Buenos Aires will be his sec­ond ap­pear­ance in the colours of In­dia af­ter mak­ing his in­ter­na­tional de­but at the Youth Com­mon­wealth Games in the Bahamas last year.

“I was so happy when I saw the time and re­alised that I had met the stan­dard set by the Swim­ming Fed­er­a­tion of In­dia,” Karan said.

“I called home to share the news as soon as I could. My par­ents and brother were over the moon. I want to swim at the Olympics one day and this is a step in that di­rec­tion.”

The 17-year-old is part of a swim­ming ex­change pro­gramme paid for by In­dian-based steel com­pany JSW.

The pri­vately funded pro­gramme en­sured that Karan and six other In­dian na­tion­als re­ceived top-level swim­ming coach­ing from Hill and an ed­u­ca­tion at Glen­wood High School.

“I am re­ally en­joy­ing it here. It feels like a sec­ond home. The weather is great and so are the peo­ple. I feel like I am South African in a sense.”

He ad­mits that leav­ing home was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult but his sac­ri­fice has paid dividends.

“The first two years were very chal­leng­ing but I have ad­justed. When I look at how much I have im­proved and pro­gressed I know it was worth it.”

The ris­ing young star says he wears the colours of In­dia with pride but wishes the gov­ern­ment would do more to im­prove the sport. “Swim­ming is grow­ing in In­dia,” he says. “Peo­ple need to un­der­stand that cricket is not the only sport. It is a men­tal­ity thing.

“The gov­ern­ment needs to sup­port other codes. I think when the mind­sets change, In­dia will start to pro­duce all types of ath­letes.”

As the win­ter months start to set in, Karan’s fo­cus is un­moved. He’s de­ter­mined to ex­cel at the forth­com­ing Ar­gen­tinian show­piece event.

“My aim is to make the semi-fi­nal or fi­nals, so I have a lot of work to do. I need to do my best and im­prove my times. I have to train harder, be fit and healthy. That re­quires me to fol­low the coach’s in­struc­tions and hope for the best.”

And Karan has Hill’s back­ing. “I think he is very ca­pa­ble of reach­ing his tar­gets. Karan is a great kid, he is like­able and has a good work ethic.

“These guys go home once a year. That’s tough for a 14-year-old but they train hard be­cause they be­lieve in their dreams.”

Karan Ko­taraju of In­dia is train­ing in South Africa, fol­low­ing his dream to be­come an Olympic swim­mer.

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