And thus, did the 49th edition of the Inter IIT aquatics meet conclude in IIT Guwahati with the contingent from Kharagpur bagging the second place despite the enormous odds stacked against them. Expectations were high, the obstacles nigh on insurmountable; but the team, undeterred, went ahead and gave it more than their very best, pulling out all holds to secure the silver losing the coveted gold to IIT Madras by a hair’s breadth of three points. Given the fact that the team faced incredible challenges this year; the graduation of eight star swimmers, the lack of a coach till about a month before the meet and the high number of fresh and inexperienced swimmers, the bagful of medals that it bought back from Guwahati is a clear indicator of the talent, dedication and the passion that the team has.The Scholars’ Avenue caught up with the team as they relax for the moment, before gearing up for their next battle.
Expectations, mindset and performance
The hat trick of gold that the previous contingents had bought home raised the standards and expectations from the team to a whole new level. This, coupled with the graduation of stellar swimmers like Darshan Varrier leaving Shreyas Mahajan to be the only senior most player, would have bound to crack up the team’s spirit. As Vinayak Bajaj, a second time Inter IIT player, points out, “The problem this year was the lack of star swimmers. Nearly all the IITs have star swimmers. We had all Jacks but no King.” This seemed to be the general feeling in most of the team. “The graduation of eight players was a major drawback. But as time passed, the team improved a lot”, says Aman Kharb, a second year student.
This proved to be an understatement as the results surpassed the expectations of many: “What happened during the Inter IIT was that we had unexpected victories in unexpected events”, says Bajaj. His words are echoed by Kharb: “I think in aquatics we did better than our expectations.” It was not just the team’s expectations that they had bettered but all of them “individually had surpassed their own timings in each and every event of Aquatics”, says a proud Mahajan. All of KGP was abuzz with excitement as the swimmers went way ahead of what they had hoped for and brought home the 2ndposition.
What with the lack of a coach till a month before the tournament, the entire task of organizing the team and conducting the practices fell on the captain Shreyas Mahajan, who, apart from keeping the swimmers in a top-notch position, had to ensure that there was good bonding within the team. There seem to have been no problems on this front as as none of the new players had any qualms in getting into the team-spirit. In the words of Siraj Modiwala, a first-year student: “The seniors were very helpful. They made sure that the swimmers lacked for nothing in terms of practice and training. Having been a part of aquatics teams before KGP, I can definitely say that the atmosphere in this team was much better than any of my past experiences”.
However, having so many new faces in the team seems to have taken a toll on the results in team events, especially in water-polo. This is made evident by Bajaj who says: “In water-polo, we lost because of lack of experience and coordination. In the match against Bombay, we were leading 2-0, but by the end of the third quarter we were trailing by 2 points”. The match was lost by IIT Kharagpur (3-6). According to Dushyant Mishra, a third year student, the team was quite confident of winning in water polo, but with the defeat against IIT Bombay, a few players were deterred”.
The one who made all the difference
One of the major factors that led to the team’s brilliant performance was the role played by the coach – a Mr. Abhishek, who ,although began working with the team a month ago, made sure that the swimmers delivered nothing but their best at the tournament. “Abhishek sir made us practice really hard. If he hadn’t been there, the results would not have been what they are”, says Modiwala, an opinion supported by Bajaj who states: “The coach didn’t tolerate any silly excuses. He didn’t cut anyone any slack and was very motivating”.
He made the team practice so hard that most of them are of the opinion that his coming earlier would have made little difference to the team’s performance. “We can’t really say if the results would have been better had the coach come earlier, because our practices were very intense and were tiresome. If they were this way for a long time, then there would have been a chance that a few players could have given up. Everyone practiced to their limits in the final three weeks”, says Bajaj.
The dedication and tenacity of the coach and the team are further evident from the fact that before the coach came, the team used to swim 2-2.5km in around 3 hours, but with the coach’s guidance, they could the same in an hour. Shreyas ,too, is of the opinion that under the coach’s guidance, the team benefited so much as to grant them a podium finish in aquatics.
The Judgement Day
After the first day of the tournament, IIT Kharagpur led the table with 24 points while IIT Madras was on 15. “We weighed our chances carefully after the first day at Guwahati and realized that we could still give a very tough fight for the championship”, says Mahajan. And so they did. The first three days were crowded with events in which the entire team participated. But on day four, Team Kharagpur had a third place water polo match, two relays, 200m freestyle and 50m freestyle events. The “star swimmer” from IIT Madras was surely expected to get them 20 points in the two relay events from the very start of the tournament. Till the third day, IIT Kharagpur was leading the points table due to “unexpected” medals in various events. After the relay, Madras and Kharagpur were tied at 50 points each. In the words of Bajaj, “The final event was 50m freestyle. It all came down to this last event. Whoever would have won that event would have won the Aquatics GC.” Team Kharagpur couldn’t secure a medal in the final event and IIT Madras, even with a mere silver medal got through to the top. The final standings were IIT Madras (53) followed by IIT Kharagpur (50) with a lead of about 22 points over IIT Kanpur (28) in the third position.
The Venus factor
One of the bitterest moments of this year’s meet was that the Women’s team did not perform well enough. Although Shreyas feels that the girls are putting in the best efforts that are in their capabilities, pushing beyond a point could be precarious indeed. He adds, “All the medalists of the women’s races were either state or national level swimmers. They (the women’s contingent) have practiced, but it is difficult to cope against the experience of several years of play”.
According to the girls’ contingent, the lack of senior and experienced players during those sessions proved to be a disappointment. Their presence would have definitely improved the team’s training and boosted their motivation to practice.
The team’s substandard performance could also be because one of their best swimmers was unfortunately unable to go to Guwahati due to health issues and the fact that they had only 3 swimmers to compete. “Our practice sessions were quite rigorous compared to last year and we were hoping to perform well this year. However, the absence of one our strong swimmers put us in a dilemma and prevented us from participating in relay events too”, says Aishwarya A. M., a second year student.
“We need a new pool!”
The only problem that the team seems to be facing, now that a permanent coach has been appointed, is the lack of a second swimming pool, a proposal put forth by last year’s General Secretary, Sports and Games- Indranil Hatai. The entire team has been raising this issue with the management for a long time now, but this has taken a backseat on the gymkhana and the administration’s priority list. A new pool would be instrumental in allowing the new players to have sufficient practice hours without worrying about the completion of daily slots.
The next splash
All in all, after Guwahati the team’s confidence for and expectations from next year are definitely high. The team has proven, beyond a measure of doubt, that it has the talent, passion and the urge to overcome any difficulties in their way. With Shreyas graduating this year, Bajaj says: “We will have a stronger, better team next year. 6-7 players will be graduating from Madras, leaving them stranded in a position similar to ours. The team must maintain its cool and not get over-confident. With a good coach and sufficient practice, we won’t lose the Gold”. Shreyas echoed these sentiments, “Nothing is changing in team except for one player. The team’s performance will definitely be top-notch if they practice the way they have done this year.”
We, at The Scholars’ Avenue, wish the team the very best for their future and hope that they will take KGP back to its former glory and keep it there with the hope that the valiant performance of the practically “new” aquatics team will serve as an inspiration to the other Inter IIT teams to give their best shot at the forthcoming Inter IIT tournament in December.