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Khade ends India's 24-year medal drought

Kamesh Srinivasan

The 19-year old takes the bronze medal in the 50m butterfly event

— Photo: AP

FUTURE BECKONS:Virdhawal Khade shows off his bronze medal after the men's 50m butterfly final on Tuesday.

GUANGZHOU: Virdhawal Khade declared that he was a star swimmer in the making as he won the bronze medal in the 50m butterfly event at the Asian Games here on Tuesday.

The 19-year-old Khade clocked 24.31s to land India's first medal in swimming after a gap of 24 years in the Asian Games. Khazan Singh had won the last swimming medal for India, a silver in the 200m butterfly at the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul.

The only gold for Indian swimming had come through Sachin Nag in the inaugural edition of the Asiad in Delhi in 1951, in the 100m freestyle.

Though Zhou Jiawei of China won the gold at 23.66 seconds and Masayuki Kishida of Japan won the silver at 24.13, Khade said he was a better swimmer than them, but for his bad start. He had a reaction time of 0.72 seconds, the same as the gold medallist. The Japanese had a reaction time of 0.61 seconds.

Stating that he had expected to come under his personal best of 24.14s achieved last year, Khade conceded that the overall timings of everyone had gone up after the body-suits had been taken away from swimming by the international body.

Generally quite modest with his answers, Khade took everyone by surprise at the post-podium press conference saying he had a better future than the two medallists sitting to his right as he was the youngest of them. Zhou Jiawei is 27 years of age and Masayuki will celebrate his 25th birthday on November 24.

Khade's future may be a mystery, considering the priority given to the sport back home in India, but he was relaxed and delighted to live in the present, celebrating a rare medal, with the prospect of another in the 100m freestyle on Wednesday.

“I am very happy with the medal, as it has come after 1986 for India, though I wanted either a silver or a gold, particularly after missing the bronze in 50m freestyle so narrowly yesterday,” said Khade.

“My start was very bad, and I am trying to improve on it from the last Olympics in Beijing. Swimming wise I am better than these guys. It is just 50 metres and you can't really make up,” he added.

Jumping into the pool in lane two, Khade kept himself ahead of the two Koreans Gyucheol Chang (24.60) and Doohee Jeong (24.37) who flanked him and had a better reaction time.

Zhou Jiawei in lane four, shot ahead at the halfway mark and Masayuki Kishida kept pace with him in the sixth lane. The other Chinese Chen Weiwu (24.43) in the fifth lane was left behind and so was the Japanese Rammaru Harada (24.51). The Kazakh in lane eight, Rustam Khudieyev (24.72) was the slowest of qualifiers and stayed eighth.

While qualifying with the fifth best timing of 24.56 that won him the third heat in the morning, Khade had asserted that he would win a medal, possibly a silver which had ensured a strong Indian media presence at the pool, in the evening during the finals. Khade did not disappoint.

“I wanted to go faster, but I can't complain because I have got a medal,” he said.

“Before coming here for the Asian Games, I wanted to win medals in all the events that I compete. Actually freestyle 50 and 100m are my main events. It is weird that I got a medal in butterfly. I have 100m freestyle tomorrow, and hopefully will get a medal.

“Freestyle or butterfly, Asian Games is one of the biggest events in the world, and this medal really means a lot to me,” said Khade.

Acknowledging the splendid role of his coach Nihar Ameen, who had been mostly training him at the 25-metre long pool at the Dolphin Centre in Bangalore, Khade said that it hurt to miss a medal by 0.03 seconds in the 50mfreestyle event, after working so hard the whole season.

He said that the only thing that was in his mind on Tuesday, was a medal, ‘and nothing else.'

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