By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) – Triple Olympic champion Stephanie Rice is confident she can help India get its first Olympic medal from swimming after announcing plans to set up her academy in the country early next year.
The Australian swimmer won three gold medals at the Beijing Games in 2008 – each in world record times – and will be inducted next month as an Athlete Member of The Sport Australia Hall of Fame, one of the highest honours in Australian sport.
A swimmer making the cut for the Olympics is a cause of celebration in India given the abysmal record of its athletes in the pool at the highest stage of competition but Rice believes there was enough talent in the country of 1.3 billion.
“The biggest contribution that I can make, that’s probably lacking a little bit, is the high level international coaching experience in India,” she told reporters at a beachside hotel in Mumbai on Tuesday.
“Lot of the current Indian swimmers train in the Thailand or the U.S. and they come back to compete for the country.
“It makes it really hard for India to become a really good sporting nation because you require every athlete to have funds to be able to train somewhere else in the world.”
Over the next few days, the 31-year-old Rice will be meeting sponsors and partners and finalise a location for the Stephanie Rice Swimming Academy, which will be operational from next year.
Indian swimmers have not qualified for next year’s Tokyo Games yet and the country lacks infrastructure and professionally-managed coaching programmes to produce top-level athletes.
Pointing out that swimming offers the most number of medals at Olympics after athletics, Rice said India should concentrate on performance in the pool if they were to achieve their goal of becoming a sporting power.
“I am bringing with me my team of coaches – strength and conditioning, physios, nutritionists – to be able to help the current swimming athletes but also hopefully generate some up and coming athletes over the years,” she said.
“The ultimate goal over the next four to eight to 12 years is to have an Indian swimmer on the podium – top-three will be a fantastic result for us.”
Rice said she could have set up the academy anywhere else but felt could make the biggest impact in India.
“I could take my swimming academy to anywhere in the world and it would do well. But India’s a market that I feel I can make the biggest impact and have the biggest growth.”
“I plan on being in India at my academy for three to four months on average.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)