Winner Ranajoy Punja of Maharashtra (No 4) at the start of 100 metres freestyleSwimming has become a young sport, literally, where world champions are generally teenagers. This trend was very-much in evidence at the recently held Sixth National Age Group Aquatic Championships in Bombay.Though it would be difficult to classify,Winner Ranajoy Punja of Maharashtra (No 4) at the start of 100 metres freestyleSwimming has become a young sport, literally, where world champions are generally teenagers. This trend was very-much in evidence at the recently held Sixth National Age Group Aquatic Championships in Bombay.Though it would be difficult to classify any of the contestants as prospective world champions some swimmers improved on the records of the senior nationals, a development which gives rise to the happy belief that the youngsters are coming in a big way.Anita Sood, for instance, at 13, is already invincible in the freestyle events. So too are Roxanne Sethna in the backstroke and Persis Madon in the butterfly. Mridula Shastri, another youngster, already has senior national titles to her credit. All four participated in group II (under 15s) and ensured the team title for Maharashtra in this category.Another encouraging trend is the progress achieved by states which had so far offered little competition. Uttar Pradesh got its first gold medal in the history of the championships through Dharmendra Shukla in group IV (under 11s). Delhi had a versatile swimmer in Dharampal in group I (under 18s) and Madhya Pradesh’s V. Mahajan won three titles in the same group. Manipur, whose Thouba Singh retained the breast-stroke double in the boys group I, produced another exciting prospect in 14-year-old Kiranmaldevi in the girls group II.Top Teams: Maharashtra, Bengal and Kerala, however, continued to be the leading powers. There was a marked contrast between Maharashtra on the one hand and Bengal on the other. Almost all the swimmers from Maharashtra, which had the largest contingent of 75, were from Bombay and had trained in private pools.advertisementThe bulk of swimmers from Bengal, which fielded a contingent almost as large as that of Maharashtra and Kerala, were drawn from rural areas and were trained in rivers and tanks by coaches deputed by the respective state associations. Diminutive P. Madhavdas of Kerala won the stamina-sapping 1,500 metres freestyle to establish a record in his very first year in group II. Savage power was in evidence as Abhijit Ghosh of Bengal picked up the butterfly titles in the same group.Maharashtra, which had won the team championships in all the four groups in the girls events last year, lost its hold on group I and group IV to Bengal. They retained their supremacy in group HI primarily because of the small but indefatigable Sonal Nanavati who won four gold medals. Kerala finished runners-up in the first three groups with Maharashtra taking second place in group IV.Neglect: Greater representation enabled Maharashtra to win the boys group I title despite its failure to obtain a single gold. Graceful Ranajoy Punja and Ashfaq Raja helped the state claim the top spot in group III. Bengal won the group II and group IV titles. In the latter, Dibjyoti Kar emerged as a swimmer with a bright future.But where do these youngsters go from here? The Swimming Federation of India President, Amar Singh Harika, admitted that there was no comprehensive plan to train the up-and-coming, except for a short stint at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, “sometime” this year. Finance is obviously the greatest constraint.Harika is perhaps right in saying that swimming – which sees more records fall in the Olympics than any other sport – is not given the encouragement it deserves. But a sad fact that cannot be neglected is that apart from holding the championships, no viable long-term scheme to train talent has been presented to the Education Ministry so far.