Army Pal: Making a splash in open-water swimming

Army Pal: Making a splash in open-water swimming

CHENNAI: Army Pal, the open-water swimmer from India, had to beat 87 participants in the 10 KM open-water race to earn the gold medal at Swim Miami 2024. A feat that has not been achieved by an Indian in a race of this stature in the US.

The 22-year-old is training at the World Aquatics open water development centre in Miami, Florida as part of the FINA Aquatics Scholarship Programme.

"I am getting the opportunity to use the best facilities in the world and working along with some of the best swimmers in the world is a motivation in itself," he told this daily from Miami. The unique feat was hailed by the Swimming Federation of India which felt this could lead to an Olympic quota in the next Olympics.

A son of a bank employee father and a housemaker mother from Hooghly in West Bengal, who earned his name as a result of many of his family members from his maternal side serving in the armed forces, started swimming because his mother wanted to put his energy to some good use.

"I was an active kid and there was a swimming pool close to my house and my mother sent me there to swim. Once I started, I enjoyed swimming a lot. Then in 2012, I started competing and I came last in my first-ever race. I couldn't stop crying because I didn't win a medal. My mother bought me a medal from the market and she has been supporting me since then. With that, I think, I got that aggression in me that I also have to win and be better. I started working harder with that motivation. I improved at every level from then on," he added.

The journey continued at the state level and eventually at the national level as well, but it all changed in 2019 when Pal met coach Bhushan Kumar at the Glenmark Aquatic Foundation in Bengaluru. "He joined me in 2019. That boy is a hard-working fellow, but he used to struggle in the races. He has always been a distance swimmer even in the pool. Slowly he started in the open water like 5k and 10k races," the coach remembers fondly. If you ask Pal, he credits Kumar for changing his approach. "Bhushan sir suggested that I should try open-water swimming. He encouraged me to take up the open-water swimming and when I competed in the 7.5 km race for the first time, I finished fourth. Then I tried five km and it suited me better. and I improved my time as well." Pal mentioned.

Slowly, the tides turned and Pal became a regular at the international open-water events. "We went to the World Championship in Budapest in 2022 for 5km and he also went for the Asian Championship in the same year. We have this open-water national championship in Karnataka held in Lake. And he won the 10k race again. And because of his previous performances over three years, he was selected for the FINA Aquatics Scholarship Programme in the USA for one year in Miami, Florida," said the coach.

“It is a big achievement considering he participated in an Open water event (10k) with some 87 entries in the US and won gold,” V Nanavati, a bureau member of the International Swimming Federation (FINA), applauded Pal's achievements. “The coach is experienced and he was impressed by him. If he performs like this he might qualify for the next Olympics in open water.”

The scholarship has opened new doors for the youngster as he is getting to train with renowned open-water coach, Gianluca Urlando. And Pal wants to gain as much as he can from this experience. "I want to use this training to better myself and be a better swimmer. And like every athlete, I also want to represent India in the Olympics. In the next two months, we have one open championship in Mexico, for now, that is my target. It feels really good to know that when I started, I had to work it out myself and now I have reached this level," he added.

The sport is part of the World Aquatics Championships. Marathon swimming was added to the Olympic programme with the 10km race at the Beijing Games in 2008.