Exclusive – ‘I was on the verge of quitting’: How swimmer Sajan Prakash came back from an ugly injury to qualify for Tokyo Olympics | Tokyo Olympics News

Exclusive – ‘I was on the verge of quitting’: How swimmer Sajan Prakash came back from an ugly injury to qualify for Tokyo Olympics | Tokyo Olympics News

NEW DELHI: ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’ – the proverb is really apt for India’s top swimmer Sajan Prakash. He first defeated a career-threatening neck injury, then stayed away from the pool for eight months due to COVID-19, and then staged a remarkable comeback to qualify for his second Olympic appearance at the Tokyo Games.
The 27-year-old from Kerala clocked 1:56:38 seconds in the men’s 200m butterfly event in Rome to become the first-ever Indian swimmer to earn a direct Olympic qualification to the Olympics by breaching the Olympic qualifying time (OQT). With this he also broke his own national record.
“I am so happy that I will be representing my country once again. At the end of the day when your hardships, determination, and efforts pay off, it feels really good,” Sajan told TimesofIndia.com in an exclusive interview.

Image credit: Sajan Prakash’s Facebook page
Sajan, who is posted as an inspector in Kerala Police, suffered a neck injury in 2019, which also affected his left shoulder. He was advised not to hit the pool. When he recovered, the lockdown in March affected his daily practice. For almost eight months, he didn’t swim.
Just when Sajan began treatment for his neck injury, which he suffered during the World Championships in Gwangju in July 2019, his scans revealed a slip disc on his neck’s C4, C5, and C6 vertebrae.
Sajan was down but not out, thanks to his coach S Pradeep Kumar.

“I was in so much pain. I wanted to get rid of that, but it was just increasing day by day. I went for rehab and physiotherapy where I was treated properly. My physiotherapists Gautham Sridhar and Prachi Shah worked a lot on me and helped me recover from the injury. In March, I went to Thailand and that’s when the lockdown happened and I was stuck there for almost eight months. I couldn’t swim after that. Keeping the A qualification in mind, it was really tough, frustrating, and devastating for me,” Sajan further said.
“After my rehab, I focussed on very small things and those small things made a huge difference in the end,” the 27 year old from Idukki in Kerala further told TimesofIndia.com.
First the injury and then the lockdown, both put a big question mark over Sajan’s Tokyo dreams.
An emotional Sajan said he was on the verge of ‘quitting’ the sport.

Image credit: Sajan Prakash’s Facebook page.
“Many people told me to quit. Honesty, I was on the verge of quitting. I had lost 50 percent of my belief. Many times, the thoughts were haunting me that I will not be able to make a comeback now. But my coach was with me. He kept my determination high. He kept on motivating me. He made me believe that I can do it, I can make a comeback and once again perform on the biggest stage,” Sajan, who is one of three swimmers who will compete in Tokyo said.
“I have worked really hard in the last year consistently without taking any breaks. I want to give credit to my coach for supporting me and motivating me. I couldn’t have imagined doing this without his support,” he said.
Tokyo will be Sajan’s second Olympic appearance. He represented India in the Men’s 200 metre butterfly event at the Rio Olympics. He finished 28th in the Heats, clocking 1:59.37 seconds.
Swimming legend Michael Phelps of the United States clocked 1:53.36 seconds to win the gold medal in the final. Japan’s Masato Sakai claimed the silver with a timing of 1:53.40, while Hungary’s Tamas Kenderesi bagged the bronze with a timing of 1:53.62.

Michael Phelps (Image credit: Olympic Channel)
Swimming legend Michael Phelps, who has as many as 28 Olympic medals, holds the Olympic record for the 200m butterfly at 1:52:03 which he set at the Beijing Games in 2008.
On being asked about realistic medal chances in Tokyo, Sajan gave a realistic reply.
“We need to be realistic. I know I have swum for so many years. But I know what the level of swimming is (at the Olympics). The Olympics are a different thing altogether. Saying I am going and will win the medal and going there and not even reaching the semis is not a good thing. Let’s accept reality. I am being realistic right now. The first thing is that I want to give my best to reach the semis. I know where I stand, what my time is,” the 27-year-old said.
“I have done everything in terms of preparations. Just last-moment small polishing work remains. I like to be realistic. The realistic target will be to make the semifinals,” he further told TimesofIndia.com.

(Image credit: Sajan Prakash’s Facebook page)
Sajan also said that lack of opportunities is the biggest hurdle for Indian swimmers and coaches.
“Swimming is a more technical (sport). You need to put in a lot of effort. It is more scientific than just a sport. All the sports are played on land. And this in water. There is a lot of talent in our country. They can do it and reach such a level. But they haven’t got the right opportunity to showcase their talent. We have the best coaches. They have immense knowledge, but they haven’t been given the right opportunity to expose themselves. I am sure an Indian swimmer will win an Olympic medal some day,” Sajan signed off.

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