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The boy who would be king

Stan Rayan

— FILE PHOTO

EXCEPTIONAL TALENT: Veerdhaval Khade has been making waves consistently.

KOCHI: While he was playing badminton at the Malayalee Club, Chetput in Chennai, on Saturday morning, Sebastian Xavier got a call from home.

“I was told that my national record had gone,” said the Railway star. He was no longer the country’s fastest swimmer.

Sebastian knew it was coming. “I knew Veerdhaval Khade would break it but definitely not so early. He’s just 17,” said the Southern Railway Assistant Sports Officer who set his 50m national record ten years ago.

When Sebastian stopped the clock at 22.89 secs on a cold September day at the Bangalore National in 1998, everybody was stunned. The young man was at his peak at that time, he was close to the Asian standard too, but even years after that amazing run, there were a few who believed that the clock was made to race in Bangalore to help Sebastian qualify for the Asian Games that year.

Someone special

“You need something special, someone extraordinary to clock such a timing,” explained Sebastian years later. “I had a lightning start and was very, very fast. I still remember that race very clearly.”

No one is raising eyebrows these days, for Veerdhaval Khade, coached by Nihar Ameen in Bangalore’s K.C. Reddy Centre, is clearly someone very special. The boy from Kolhapur in Maharashtra is a star in the making, he could even be the best swimmer the country has ever seen.

Khade’s semifinal timing, 22.69 secs in the 50 free, his pet event, at the World Youth Championship in Mexico the other day would have easily fetched him a silver medal at the 2006 Doha Asian Games. The youngster was however slower (22.95) in the final on Friday where he finished fifth.

Japan’s Makoto Ito clocked 22.77 secs for the Doha silver. The last Indian to win a medal at the Asiad was Khazan Singh, with the 200m butterfly silver at the 1986 Games in Seoul and this makes Khade’s performance all the more special.

Khade’s timings in the other events in Mexico are stunning too. His 1:50.35 secs in the 200 free while finishing sixth was better than the previous Youth World record (1:51.97secs). He also has a best time of 50.64 secs in the 100 free. All these would have easily carried him to the final in Doha.

Speciality

“Yes, if he goes like this, he can surely win golds at the Asian Games,” said Sebastian.

What makes him so special?

“I’ve been watching him…his body language is excellent,” explained Sebastian. “I had a strong start which gave me a huge advantage but for Khade, the whole package is good. He is tall and seems to be good in all departments.”

Khade’s dad was a good basketballer and, considering his height, the youngster would have made a good hoopster too. “But my dad wanted me to concentrate on an individual event,” the young star told this writer some time ago. And the move to shift from Kolhapur to Bangalore worked magic to his swimming.

Indian swimming too is suddenly looking bright and brimming with confidence too.

“Yes, it is really looking up,” said Virendra Nanavati, the Swimming Federation of India secretary on Saturday evening. “For the first time, we will have four swimmers in the Olympics in Beijing (Bangalore’s Rehan Poncha, Delhi’s Sandeep Sejwal, Ankur Poseria, who trains in the US, apart from Veerdhaval Khade). “We use to look for wild cards and quota places earlier, now the scene is very different.”

“And Khade is very special. I only hope he doesn’t get exhausted. We need him fresh at the coming Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune.”

For sure, lessons from Beijing will come very handy for the young man.

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