Meet the Indian Michael Phelps heading to Rio 20165 min read
He earned the nickname of Indian Michael Phelps for his astonishing performance at the National Games in 2015 where he won six gold medals and three silver medals. Little did Sajan Prakash know that a year later, he would be competing with his sporting idol on the Olympic stage.
The Kerala-born swimmer worked as a train clerk in the Bengaluru Railway Division to financially support his passion for swimming. At one point, he sandwiched his day job between two hours of swimming in early mornings and late evenings. Today, Sajan is one of only two swimmers representing India at the Olympics.
The Manipal Journal caught up with the 22-year old swimmer before he heads to Rio de Janeiro to compete in the 200 metres butterfly event alongside Michael Phelps.
Congratulations! You are going to represent India at the Olympics. How do you feel?
I feel good. I was training for this for the past one year. I feel proud that my dream has come true.
How did you get into swimming?
I was born in Idukki. My mom is an athlete too and I started swimming at the age of six. My coach suggested we shift to Bangalore. It was tough deciding whether I should take up studies or swimming. I didn’t have much interest in taking up engineering, so I decided to pursue swimming. I switched from short distance to long distance gradually over five years.
Looking back, I have to say the 2014 Senior Nationals in Kolkata was the start. I swam the 400 metres freestyle and finished second behind Saurabh Sangvekar. We set a really good time actually. Then the next day, I broke the national record for the 1500 metres freestyle so I qualified there for the World Championship. That was where it all really began and today, I am in the Olympics.
You have qualified for the 200 metres butterfly event in the Rio Olympics? Would you say it is your preferred race?
I actually qualified in 400m, 1500m and 200m butterfly and by the end of the qualification, I felt fit in 200m butterfly, so I wanted to focus on that and I cut down time on that. Recently, in Hong Kong, I felt I should go below two minutes. No Indian has ever done the 200 metres butterfly under two minutes.
Sajan managed a national record of 01:59:27 at Hong Kong
Was the National Games in 2015 was a turning point for you?
Yes, that was a major turning point for me. It gave me confidence to do even better. For the National Games, I trained very hard with my coach here in Bangalore and after that I moved to Phuket, Thailand for a year to continue my training.
How was the experience training in Thailand?
It was a good experience. There was a lot to learn and whenever you go to a new club or a new swimming pool, it takes time to adjust, but I got used to the new routine. In between, I had to deal with a shoulder injury before the South Asian Games, and that is when I was not swimming at all. I was only doing leg workouts and some kicks in the pool but I did a decent time at the Games. After that, I swam in competitions in Bangkok, Malaysia and Hong Kong. I was improving my time steadily with every event.
How did you manage to give time to both your job and your passion for swimming?
I used to be a train clerk at the Bengaluru Railway Division. I wanted to support my passion for swimming financially. My day would start with training at 5:30 in the morning with two hours of swimming and two hours of gym workout. Then I would head for work at around 10.30. I would finish work, get something to eat and head back to training in the evening when I would swim for two more hours. This was my routine for a year. When I showed good performances in railway meets and Senior Nationals, they spared me from my work and allowed me to focus on my training.
What about the money?
I still haven’t got any sponsorship! Only the government funding for winning in the national games but I have to mention a man in the Railways, Lakshman Singh, who helped me buy supplements for around 7-8 months.
As far as sponsorship goes, I never received any sponsorship. After the national games, I got a scholarship from FINA to train in Phuket, Thailand. I trained there for a year and managed to improve my timing but even today, nobody has come forward to sponsor me.
What is your aim at the Rio Olympics?
My first aim is to enter the semifinals at Rio. I need to cut down atleast two seconds to enter the semi-finals. The 200m butterfly is one of the toughest events in the Olympics now. It is also Michael Phelps’ favorite event.
Your thoughts on the nickname given to you – Indian Michael Phelps?
(laughs) That is because of the medals I earned in the National Games. But yes, Michael Phelps is my favourite sports person.
TMJ wishes Sajan Prakash luck in his Olympic debut as he prepares to take the pool on August 8 in the 200 metres butterfly event.
Edited by Manasi Susarla