It was sometime late November last year. The author can be sure of the time because, one, the end-semesters were creeping up close and two, it was cold. Really cold. Cold enough to make you think twice before taking in every breath. He had sneaked in a quick break and headed out for a warm cup of tea, and chanced to walk past the swimming pool. He could hear voices and splashes emanating from the brightly lit premises of the pool. While he cringed at the thought of being anywhere near water and it made his insides shiver, the Inter-IIT aquatics team, after a triumphant performance at the then recently concluded Inter-IIT that we hosted, was sweating it out in the pool like they did every day. The year has come a full circle with the 48th edition of the Inter-IIT Aquatics Meet at IIT-Roorkee bearing witness to boundaries being pushed, records being broken and moments that define the pinnacle of sporting excellence. And leading the charge were our own boys from IIT-Kharagpur, who have returned home with their heads held high and a shield to match their splendid performance that saw them finish on the top yet again – for the third time in as many years. They fished out 6 golds and 3 silvers in the 14 aquatics events ensuring that we retain the Aquatics gold, again. Bronze in Water Polo was the perfect icing on the cake, re-affirming IIT KGP’s dominance on the aquatic front. We, at The Scholars’ Avenue, caught up with the captains and senior players of the team for a candid chat and this is what they had to say.
The results they have managed to churn over the last three years, speaks volumes about their consistency. On being asked about what they thought the main reason behind their success was, they had one thing to say – practice. The importance that the players gave to their daily practice was evident by the fact that it kept echoing all through the conversation. The team, seniors and juniors alike, spends around 2-4 hours every day at the pool, almost throughout the year, and this has made all the difference. So much so, that this year, about 5 senior swimmers stayed back in the summer to brace themselves for the task at hand. Even after the satisfying performance in Inter-IIT last year, the team was back to the pool in a week’s time. They made it a point to watch as many Olympic races and matches as possible in order to fine-tune their techniques. Be it exams or societies or any other commitments, they always made time for good swim. Another major factor the swimmers felt was responsible was their coach – Mr Ritesh Gucchait. “We have never had a dearth of quality swimmers. Every batch had a couple or more of brilliant potential medal winners, but the team was not so prominent on the Inter-IIT Aquatics radar. Gucchait Sir changed that. He pushed us to become better swimmers and an even better team”, said Shreyas Mahajan, captain of the Water Polo team. The coach was very particular about regular practice, for everyone and that set the ball rolling or rather, it set the water of change flowing.
Water drops make an ocean
Team dynamics was one of the things that the coach stressed on. He always told them to remain a team, both in and out of water. Post-practice treats and bonding outside the pool was encouraged. In a Water Polo match against a Midnapore team, a KGP swimmer was fouled and injured. The whole team stood by him and refused to play on. Such gestures send across a strong message to everyone watching. Even within the team, there is no bias, especially the senior-junior one. “If a senior asks a junior to give a 1000m workout, he has to swim 1200m before that” said Pahun Jain, a senior Water Polo player and part of the team for the last five years.
Despite Water Polo being a ‘rough’ sport (who, really, can forget the iconic image of the ‘Blood in the Water’ match between Hungary and USSR), fights are almost non-existent. Good will, the swimmers feel, does a great good to all stake holders of the sport. “All of us swim our hearts out and obviously want to win. But once we are out of water, there is no animosity. There is respect for each other and for the sport”, Darshan Varier, the golden boy, remarked. “This amity does not extend only to one’s own team but also to all who we meet at the Inter-IITS. What happens in the pool, stays in the pool.” All this culminates into a solid team built on mutual respect and sense of belonging, a major ingredient in brewing up medals.
The KGP factor
The world out there has a blurred view of IITs and IITians in general and all of us have been witness to that. But being the starry eyed IIT aspirants that we were, most of us would have let go of all our creative and sporting pursuits. When asked if the swimmers knew that one day they would achieve this much and be there sitting and playing with all those glittery medals, they burst out laughing. They had very little clue that all this was even possible at the IITs. They only arrived here, armed with passion for the sport and the institute provided a solid platform for the wonders that these swimmers worked. Apart from the usual duties of the administration, such as maintenance and coaching, which in itself proved very helpful, they also supported the swimmers in many unique ways. The swimmers were given complete access to the pool anytime during the day. They never frowned upon the fact that a few swimmers prefer the morning slots while others prefer the evening ones, and always had coaches and other staff ( the team fondly mentions the support provided by Atish Da and Venky Da) at the ready. Starting this year, the swimmers were provided with food in the pool premises after their evening workout. “Earlier, we had to buy our own dinner after practice as the mess would be closed, which was a big deterrent to practice every day. But this encouraged a lot of people, especially the first and second year students to come”, says Mahajan. Also, Inter-IIT being held at KGP last year proved to be a boon with the new world-class lights installed at the pool facilitating the swimmers to stay for longer hours.[box title="Medal Tally" color="#333333"] Medal Tally
100mt Backstroke : Gold
200mt Backstroke : Gold
100mt Butterfly : Gold
200mt Individual Medley : Gold
1500mt Freestyle : Gold
200mt Breaststroke: Gold
100mt Breaststroke: Silver
Team: Vinayak Bajaj, Shreyas Mahajan, Kumar Karthik, Darshan Varier
4×100 mt Freestyle relay : Silver
Team: Darshan Varier, Shreyas Mahajan, Shashwat Agrawal, Vinayak Bajaj
4×100 mt Medley relay : Silver
Water Polo: Bronze
The Dive Ahead
The commitment and dedication that it demands would have surely irked a few swimmers who cannot carve out so much time. But as a sportsman, one has got to do what it takes. It takes more than just skill to sustain and push that skill ahead. When asked about this, the swimmers had a very valid argument. It does take a lot of time, yes. But that is the price you pay to win, especially when the competition gets tougher each year. When a few senior swimmers graduated last year, there were hushed whispers all over campus and beyond that the dream run of golds would not reach a hat-trick. In our report of the 2010 triumph (http://www.scholarsavenue.org/2010/10/kgp-shines-at-inter-iit-aquatics-meet/) we ourselves pointed out the fact this fact, but the repeated and consistent performances have allayed a lot of fears and doubts. The captains are very confident of a performance befitting the weight IIT-KGP now carries around in swimming circles in the next edition. The fact that juniors in the contingent stood 5th and 6th in their respective final races is a very healthy sign. The probable swimmers themselves are charged up and action-ready. They plan to play their A-team at Shaurya 2012 so that the juniors get their share of experience.
A major setback the team received in August was the transfer of the coach, who shaped the team for three years into what it is today, to IIT-Indore. His father, and the senior coach, T. K. Gucchait took over the reins for the short period from then to the culmination of the event but for now the position remains vacant. It remains to be seen who the next coach will be, but we sure hope the swimmers get who they want and who they deserve, because they have shown us what they are capable of if they are heeded to.
When we went to the pool, to interview the swimmers, they were playing around, clicking pictures and throwing each other into the water. The trophies and innumerable medals lying on the chair, glimmering under the floodlights told us their story and a sense of pride and a stronger sense of belonging swept us. They have etched the name of IIT KGP in Inter-IIT sporting history and they deserved every bit of the fun they were having, and more. We, at The Scholars’ Avenue, congratulate the whole contingent once again. Keep them medals coming, guys!
Title credits: Shreyas Mahajan. It could not have been more apt.