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Making a splash

One of India's youngest faces at the Athens Olympics, Bangalore's Shikha Tandon has her head firmly on her shoulders



Shikha Tandon: `Athens was a big break. Even then, I was aware of my limitations. Agreed there was no podium finish, but competing at the world's greatest sports pageant, that too against some of the big names, was something to cherish for a lifetime.' - Photos: K. Gopinathan

THE UNASSUMING Tandon siblings make a fascinating twosome. Outgoing and focused; that is the intuition you get of Shikha. Towering but seemingly detached from all the happenings around him; that is Shobhit for you. Even beyond the facade, the duo compliments each other perfectly, always in agreement on everything.

Both products of K.C. Reddy Swim Centre, their foray into the water world was a chance occurrence ... a doctor's advice to Shobhit to counter bouts of asthma. From then, it has been the amazing tale of a family's tryst with destiny.

Shikha, a biotech student at Sri Bhagawan Mahaveer Jain College (SBMJC), shoulders the country's swimming agenda while Shobhit, studying at Bishop Cotton Boys School has since fallen back on his studies. He envisions a career in technology.

Except a subtle yearning to get rid of the `Shikha's brother' tag that resurfaces with each of the wonder swimmer's triumphs, Shobhit has no qualms with the spotlight firmly on Shikha's feats. "She has been a great motivation. I am lucky to have her as a sister and friend," he admits.

To be noticed, singled out and called to don national colours is the craving of many youngsters. To realize it, talent, dexterity, discipline, determination and strategies are musts... with some luck, of course. All these determinants were present in the city's youngest face at the 2004 Athens Games.

Back on home turf, the 19-year-old Shikha is on a roll. She has been in ominous form in her sport's calling. She might not have made a mark at the last Olympics, cynics may point out, but competing itself (in both the 50 and 100 meter freestyle events) was a first for the country by all accounts. Age being on Shikha's side, the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China could be the plank.

"Athens was a big break," beams Shikha. "Even then, I was aware of my limitations. Agreed there was no podium finish, but competing at the world's greatest sports pageant, that too against some of the big names, was something to cherish for a lifetime."

Making a mark

It was at the 2003 World Championships in Barcelona, Spain and the inaugural Afro Asian Games in Hyderabad that Shikha made the grades. Trained in North Carolina (2000) and California (2003) on a Government of India scholarship, Shikha has more than 285 medals and trophies to her name. "I am glad I made it because the exposure in the competitions abroad helped a lot," she shares.

Shikha, fuelled and flamed by a raging passion for swimming, believes there is more to the pool than meets the eye. "No matter the occasion, place or provocation, you are always in control of your emotions treading the thin line between success and failure. Swimming teaches you the virtues of patience, perseverance besides making you alert to the challenges that life throws up," she points out.

Rigorous discipline

But at what cost? The burden of expectancy. Massive investments. Shouldering hopes. Fan following. Sacrificing on family life. Does it get to her? "Not at all because I am passionate about my discipline," she says frankly. "The advantage with sports is that it helps one mature early in life, physically, mentally and emotionally and thus feeds directly into the rigours of your daily routine."


Saddled with the demands of a packed swimming schedule and studies, the Biotech student on a one-month break from fast paced life in the pool, insists she is in control.

"Many sportspersons have been forced to give up sports to focus on studies but I consider myself extremely fortunate," she says and goes on to add that U.V. Shankar, the Physical Education Director (SBMJC) has always gone out of the way to arrange extra classes for sportspersons in the college.

"It is really helpful that our lecturers consider it a help us with quality coaching each time we miss out on sports sojourns. The motto has been to blend sports with academics and that has taken a huge burden off our shoulders," she says.

Having been places already, you cannot help but admire the grit and determination of the youngster with plans for the season ahead. The best is surely yet to come.

JOHN PATRICK OJWANDO

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