Charting uncharted waters: Advait Page takes on fresh challenge at Asian Games

Seasoned Indian long-distance swimmer Advait Page has decided to test himself in 200m backstroke at the Asian Games 2023.

It carries a multitude of connotations. For some, change is a fresh chapter. For others, a venture into the unknown. Then there are those who see change as an adventure; a chance to redefine boundaries and test limits. And in the world of competitive swimming, where precision and consistency are the bedrock of success, change can be nothing short of overwhelming.

Yet, it is precisely this concept that has taken center stage for seasoned Indian swimmer Advait Page, as he embarks on a journey that could potentially reshape the trajectory of his career.

For years, Page has been an Indian stalwart in the 800m and 1500m freestyle events, mastering the art of long-distance swimming. However, as the countdown to the 2023 Asian Games began, Page made a seismic shift by redirecting his focus to an entirely different discipline—the 200m backstroke. It wasn't a mere whim, though; it was a calculated decision backed by intense preparation, rigorous training routines, and a complete overhaul of tactical strategies.

In this exclusive interview with Advait Page, we try to understand the motivation behind the shift and the problems he encountered along the way. In this conversation, Page offers a candid and insightful glimpse into his journey of reinvention.

How were the preparations for the Asian Games?

We were in a national camp for four weeks. All of the swimmers on the team were training in Bengaluru together and preparations really went well. I'm competing in the 200m backstroke, which is obviously different from my usual events – the 800m and the 1500m freestyle. So, personally, the preparations had to be a little different from what I'm exactly used to in the past, but it is a positive change.

I feel like it is a fresh change. It is something that I have never been able to do before. So, it keeps things exciting.

It's obviously a very big shift for you from the long-distance swimming. What propelled you to take that decision and what are the challenges that have come with it so far?

Throughout the qualifying window, which started about a year ago for this Asian Games, my initial plan was always to qualify and compete in the distance freestyle events. But it was a combination of a few things (that led to the decision). I wasn't having my best season in those events (distance races). And at the same time, there were other swimmers in India who were doing much better. It has gotten competitive out there in the distance swimming scene in India.

For years, I used to be the top swimmer going to these meets representing India. And I did so at the Commonwealth Games last year as well. But this year, things changed really quickly. And for some reason, my freestyle just did not feel at its very best. And I ended up third at the nationals.

So – again – I see it as a positive change. Maybe, I need to also get better at freestyle by working harder. But a good thing is India, as a country, is moving forward. This kind of competition is always welcome for us athletes. So, that happened, and simultaneously, my second plan, as a backup plan, was to qualify for backstroke.

That was always part of my preparation. Towards the end of my qualifying window, all of my distance events were done and I hadn't qualified. So, on the final day, the day that the qualifying window closed at senior nationals, I had my 200m backstroke and I needed to win with a time faster than eighth place from the previous Asian Games. I was able to just do that. I went with a time of 2 minutes, 4 seconds. And that got me qualified for the Games. And since then, this is what we have been working on.

You had finished seventh in the CWG final race last year but more importantly, you also had a B cut for 800m race. Now that you are shifting your stroke, is there also a feeling that you have to restart your swimming career? Is that an overwhelming feeling?

I'm not completely shifting my focus away from distance, actually. It is just for the few months that we were training for the Asian Games. I do plan to come back to distance freestyle at the end of the season, or whenever we start the following season. I think my main focus will still be on distance freestyle.

But it is good to have a little bit of a change. I feel the reasons I wasn't able to do too well in freestyle… I just needed to shift focus a little bit, give my body something different. And like you said, it does help me in a way, that fresh start or restart. I do need it for the next season as well.

How has the shift in stroke changed the way you train? Long distance requires a lot of endurance, while the margins are really low in shorter distances…

Training for distance events has a lot of stress on the endurance aspect. I think, me being a natural distance swimmer, endurance is something that is naturally my strength. But, because I'm training for the 200m backstroke, it is a completely different set of skills that I'm working on. A lot of that is focused towards speed. Your skills, like your starts, turns, and turns underwaters, and then just taking time to get comfortable in a different stroke, because you had trained too much in freestyle.

You get ready for those long days, but to be able to swim a good 200m backstroke, you need to be comfortable. So that is where our main focus is. Definitely (the focus is on) speed, that's the big difference because (in this race) you don't need as much endurance training.

Over here, every day, we are working on making sure I'm going fast every day, so that I'm ready for the event. So yes, very different, but again, I feel like it keeps things fresh. Because I have never been able to work on these things before, I feel like they have a lot of potential and it is the time I can try to dig into that potential and really make improvements in the backstroke. Additionally, that can also help me in other races for sure, moving forward.

So, have you found the similar level of comfort in backstroke yet?

It is more of a process thing. You don't ever just jump into the pool one day and feel, ‘Oh, I’ve achieved it’. But I'm definitely more comfortable now than I was two months ago, because of all the hard work focused on backstroke.

So, if I were to go into a race, I will be more in control, and more comfortable. So, we are in a better spot that way.

You told me last year that you looked up to Sun Yang in long distance swimming. Is there a similar figure for 200m backstroke?

Yeah, absolutely. So, (he is) one of my best friends, but at the same time, he is one of my idols. His name is Robert Finke. He goes by Bobby Finke. So, he is a distance swimmer who swims freestyle primarily, but one of his lesser-known skills is that he is a great 200m backstroker as well. Just like me, he never had the chance to really focus and train on the backstroke. So, he doesn't know how good he is, but his times, even without really training for it, are pretty impressive.

He has helped me a lot with just how to approach training, how you prepare for meets and stuff, and also about life beyond swimming. So, he has been really helpful. I have someone to talk to in that regard. Just like Bobby, there are so many other 200m backstroke specialists in the university I train – The University of Florida. So, I have plenty of people to talk to and they can relate to me.

It must be hard balancing studies and training, especially when you study in the U.S. and train in India.

It is definitely difficult to manage. I would say it is a lot easier to manage when you are actually there because you are in this ecosystem of other athletes similar to you where you train, you lift, you go to the class, you eat, all of those people are doing the same thing.

It does require good life management, like time management skills and discipline. It is a lot easier to achieve that there. For some time, I took classes while being in India in a completely different time zone. So, that has been a little challenging. I finish my trainings, then I check if I have any assignments left to finish off virtually. Thankfully, I have no classes to attend but I do have to complete assignments.

So, yes, that is a difficult part of being an athlete, but I'm lucky to have a great support around me, whether it is my teammates or my coaches, both here and in the U. S. They understand my situation and my professors have been a great help.

Coming back to Asian Games… since you have just recently changed your stroke, what are your realistic expectations from the event?

A lot of people don't know this, but when I went to my first Asian Games in 2018, I swam not just the distance events, but also the 200m backstroke. I believe I finished somewhere like 10th or 12th. But, this time, because my focus has been the 200m backstroke, the first step for me is to achieve my personal best. That is the number one thing I'm looking for.

The next thing I would be looking for is a spot in the final. So, to make top-8, something I missed out on last time. And if I do make top 8, I have to better my performance, and try to get a position as high as possible. I'm someone who rules out that podium finish. So, qualify for finals and to be able to repeat that is something I'm looking forward to do.

We have the Olympics next year, so what would be your focus post the Asian Games?

I still plan to have distance freestyle as my primary focus going to the Olympics next year. But, if I end up having a great performance in the 200m backstroke, things might change. I might have to look at making 200m backstroke my focus. So, a lot of it comes from the performances that I put up in these big competitions and high-pressure situations.

I would like to stay flexible. But I do understand that working on one event over the other will be helpful in making progress on that specific event. So, at the moment, it is distance freestyle but I would be open to having a great performance in the 200m backstroke at the Asian Games, and maybe at the national games later. And if they are really good, we could expect to shift.

One of your teammates, Srihari Nataraj, has been competing in 200m backstrokes practically all through his career. How has he been helpful in preparations?

It is great to have someone in that exact event that you are preparing for. I think it is good competition and it is healthy. I know he is there and I am sure me being there does that same thing to him, helps him get better. He has been really helpful as well. We don't train together all the time, because his focus events are shorter than the 200m backstroke too. So, his is a little different training plan, but every now and then we talk about how we see ourselves competing, what we want to achieve, how we can help each other get better.

He has been a teammate since like 2017. So, we have seen how both of us have grown and evolved and yes, it is just a really good experience to have him on the team. And there is a lot of fun as well, sometimes we are cracking jokes, sometimes we are serious. So, it is a good mix of both. And I really appreciate not just Srihari, but everyone on the team for what they bring to the table.

You have been associated with the Dream Sports Foundation. How has it helped you in your swimming career?

The Dream Sports Foundation, along with the Go Sports Foundation, have been a great help in my swimming career because they have given me opportunities that otherwise would have been out of reach. I feel a lot of athletes have benefited that way. So, one of them is definitely looking after the financial side of sport because competing at this level and training for it can be very expensive. So, they help athletes with that, get them the best training, and connect you with like-minded individuals in the industry, whether it is the mentors, or the experts in their respective fields. You have that community with you.

And another thing is the education side of it. Before I was even picked up by Go Sports and Dream Foundation, I didn't know much, but they really take an athlete and educate them the right way about many things. So, I'm really grateful for that support.

Asian Games will be on broadcast live on the Sony Sports Network.

Disclaimer: This Article is auto-generated from the HT news service.