As originally reported by ESPN, there was more to the story of how the Indian swimmers fared at the 2018 Asian Games than their lack of medals.
The country ultimately failed to reach the podium while breaking eight National Records and reaching the final in ten events, but an error in submitting their entry times has led to a backlash from their coaching staff.
The entry times for the Indian swimmers apparently were not sent to the Games organizers in time for the competition, which ultimately left the swimmers to swim without an entry time and thus in the slowest seeded heats.
“It’s a national travesty. That’s what it is. Our swimmers were forced to swim alongside the slowest and they had no one to pace against. It severely affected our chances,” said National coach Nihar Ameen.
Ameen is adamant that the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) sent the swimmers’ entry times to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) well in advance of the Games.
“I am absolutely certain that the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) had forwarded the entry timings but not quite certain about what happened after that,” he says.
One of the many examples is the men’s 50 breast, where Sandeep Sejwal swam a time of 27.95 in heat 1, over seven seconds quicker than the next fastest swimmer in the heat. Sejwal did end up qualifying for the final, where he placed 7th, but the Indian staff does believe the error cost them a few medals and additional spots in finals.
Coach Pradeep Kumar said that they only realized there was a problem on the eve of competition.
“We were shocked to see that our swimmers weren’t on the list. We rushed to the organizers requesting if changes could be made. But it was too close to the competition, everything was up on the website and the heat sheets were printed so they said it was too last-minute to change anything.
“When our swimmers heard this they were absolutely demotivated, but they had no choice. Once the events began, they perhaps just got used to it. Had this not happened, we would have at least made two more finals and won two medals.”
Srihari Nataraj, who broke all three Indian Records in the backstroke events at the Games, including qualifying for the final in both the 100 and 200, commented on the incident, stating “It’s something (entry timings not being sent) I didn’t have any control over so I tried just to focus on what best I could do with whatever I’m given. Of course, our performances would be a lot different had we been in faster heats,” he says.
A similar situation occurred at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where Nisha Millet, the first Indian female swimmer to qualify for the Games, was given an incorrect entry time (2:16 instead of 2:06) and thus placed in the first heat.
VD Nanavati, the current SFI CEO, had refused to comment to ESPN on the matter.
All quotes courtesy of ESPN. You can read their full article on the incident here.