© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Olympic rings are pictured in front of the IOC in Lausanne

By Amlan Chakraborty

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Three of India’s top swimmers will begin two months of training in Dubai next month, sports officials said on Saturday, ending an agonising wait that drove one of them to the verge of retirement ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Six Indian swimmers had achieved the lower, or B, Olympic qualification for the Tokyo Games before the COVID-19 pandemic forced them out of the pool in March.

India has since allowed some sports facilities to reopen for training, but pools remain closed, prompting freestyle swimmer Virdhawal Khade to announce in June that he was considering retirement.

That now looks unlikely after the Sports Authority of India (SAI) announced Khade (50-metre freestyle), Srihari Nataraj (100-metre backstroke) and Kushagra Rawat (400-metre freestyle) will train at Dubai’s Aqua Nation Swimming Academy from the first week of September.

“This decision was taken … as swimming pools in India are not yet accessible as a safety measure due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said in a statement.

Among other B qualifiers, Sajan Prakash (200-metre butterfly) has been training in Thailand, while the 800-metre freestyle duo of Aryan Makhija and Advait Page began practice in the United States earlier this month.

“The Dubai camp is for Olympic B qualifiers who are in India and currently unable to train,” Swimming Federation of India secretary-general Monal Chokshi told Reuters.

“It will be a 60-day camp in Dubai, but if pools in India don’t open in 60 days, SAI might extend it.”

Chokshi acknowledged swimmers close to securing the B qualification would be disappointed after being left out of the Dubai camp.

“It is certainly a disappointment … but one can understand that sending a large group abroad is not feasible right now,” Chokshi said. “Hopefully by September, some activities will restart in India, and they can train here.”

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