After local championships, Nepali swimmers are gearing up for international races but say there is inadequate practice and coaching.
Swimming as a sport got a boost after the setting up of the Nepal Swimming Association, nearly 23 years ago. The pace, however has not been faster than a crawl.
"It is a necessary skill to have for three main reasons: exercise, safety and sport," says national swimming coach Ishwar Karki who used to be a professional swimmer.
With facilities like the Birendra International Centre and Dasrath Stadium offering swimming at minimum charge with coaches, swimming is more than a healthy alternative to escape the heat. "And unlike other sport, swimming is a relatively safe sport," says Karki.
Many swimming tournaments have been taking place and recently, the Birthday Cup Swimming Tournament has just concluded and on 8 July, Splash the inter-college swimming tournament organised by Malpines will start.
Preparations are currently underway for Nepal to participate in the 11th FINA World Swimming Championships to be held in Montreal from 17 July to 21 July. Oshin Bharati, 12 and Alice Shrestha, 19, (pictured, above) will be representing Nepal.
"My mommy says that I took to water when I was two, I have received coaching since I was four," says Oshin who took gold for six and silver for four of the 10 events she had participated in the Birthday Cup. Her idol is Lina Shakya who holds the national record for freestyle 100 m at 1:11 and 50 m at 31 seconds. Oshin's current record is 100 m at 1:14 and 50 m at 33 sec. "My aim is to improve my timing and break the national record," says Oshin adding, "I haven't thought of swimming as a career but I definitely want to participate in the Olympics before I give it up to become a fashion designer."
Alice Shrestha, on the other hand, participated in the 2004 Olympics in Athens where he set a new national record for breaststroke at 1:12:25. "I was performing at my optimum level but after we returned, my training stopped abruptly until now," says Alice, "That's the problem with sports in Nepal. We do not receive regular training throughout the year. Maybe if I had been able to continue training, my timing would have improved. But the break has resulted in a loss of rhythm and I still haven't been able to reach the timing I did at the Olympics."
Alice idolises Japanese swimmer Kosuke Kitajima who holds the world record for men's 100 m breaststroke. "People say a swimmer has to have the advantage of height but Kitajima is shorter than me," says Alice.
The need for encouragement and support for national swimmers is strongly felt though the sport is picking pace with people like Oshin Bharati, Karishma Karki, Min Kumar Lama and Alice Shrestha. Says Karki: "We only take players if we think they are serious and committed to the sport. They need to practice regularly if they want to improve their standards and devote at least seven years, like these players, to be able to participate in international tournaments."
Many schools in Kathmandu offer swimming as a sport for students. Though the training period has just begun with swimming pools opening up for the summer, coaches feel that a few more weeks of training can help improve their style and skill. With players constantly pitted against one another, we will not only have more competitions but also better swimmers who are capable of competing with international athletes.