Nineteen-year-old Shikha Tandon is the only Indian swimmer to have qualified for the Athens Olympics. Shikha, who hails from Bangalore, will take part in the 50 metre and 100 metre freestyle events. And she has had to work hard to make it to the mega event, putting in five hours a day in the pool under the watchful eye of her coach for the last 10 years, Nihar Ameen. Tight schedule Her training schedule has left little time for the 19-year-old to attend college. "I swim around two-and-a-half hours in the morning, about two-and-a-half hours in the evening and I have weight training about four times a week," Shikha says. "Diet is pretty strict. We have to have a lot of carbohydrate, protein and the least amount of fat possible," she adds. The young swimmer has qualified for two events, but a medal seems like a very unlikely prospect.
In the 50 metres freestyle she made the qualifying time of 26.90 seconds with a time of 26.50. The Olympic best is 24.32 seconds
In the 100 metres freestyle, she just made the qualifying time of 58.36 seconds. The Olympic best is 53.83.
"I was really happy that I qualified in two events which no Indian has ever done before. I think this Olympics is definitely going to be a learning experience for me," Shikha says. No medal hopes "I am not even looking at winning a medal in this Olympics because you have to look at it realistically. I am hoping to improve my times in both my events and hopefully get into the semi-finals of at least one of them," she reasons. "Realistically speaking, we are just looking at her to improve her performance and hopefully make the semi-finals," said Shikha's coach Nihar Ameen. "She's still very young, so she has a long way to go before she peaks. The basic thing is talent. She is very talented, she is a very strong young girl and she is very, very committed so the balance works," Ameen added. Abundant talent Shikha holds the best Indian women's timings in the 50, 100 and 800 metres freestyle, the 50 and 100 metres backstroke and the 200 metres individual medley. She has had two training stints in the United States and is now focussed on the short distance sprints. "Sprint is just so much easier to train for and I think I enjoy it a lot more and I realise I am probably better at sprint than at distance," Shikha says. 'Attitude matters' This young swimmer believes it is the attitude of the top swimmers abroad that really sets them apart. "Over there, everyone is so focussed on their swimming and they are at the pool because they want to be and swimming is their life. The attitude is so different from swimmers here and that is what needs to change," she declared. Shikha will be the lone Indian representative in the pool at Athens. And while this shows the long way that Indian swimming has to go, it's a big individual milestone for this determined young swimmer.