New Delhi: A month ago, Melkote Badrinath Balakrishnan lay on a hospital bed, writhing in pain. Five stitches held together a gash on his head and he could hardly move his right shoulder. The left tricep was bruised and the left calf muscle swollen and damaged. Incapacitated, the national-record holder in the men's 50-metre backstroke wondered whether he would be able to swim at the Commonwealth Games. But today, Balakrishnan bettered the national record, making it to the semi-finals at the Games, reports The Indian Express.
On September 5, unidentified persons used a sharp object and cricket stumps to brutally attack Balakrishnan while he was on his way to an early morning training session at the Shenoy Nagar swimming pool in Chennai. The attack left the 20-year-old scarred, both physically and mentally.Yet he finished twelfth in the semi-finals on the opening day of the Games.
That he again lowered the national record to 27.26 seconds though he swam with a right shoulder that lacked power hardly caught the attention of those at the S P Mukherjee Swimming Complex — perhaps because the field also comprised World and Commonwealth Games record holder Liam Tancock of England.
In the preliminary round, the Tamil Nadu swimmer clocked 27.52 seconds to qualify 13th among the sixteen who made the semi-final. Seven hours later, he lowered the national mark in only his second semi-final of an international event. On a day when the loudest cheers were reserved for the Indian men's team 4x100 team which made the final, it was Balakrishnan who actually emerged a hero of sorts.
Rebecca Adlington, England's Olympic champion, was being mobbed in the free-zone as Balakrishnan slowly made his way past the media glare.
“This past month has been the toughest of my life. I still don't know why I was attacked... I can't think of any motive for anyone to have attacked me. I have not been able to train properly nor go to the gymnasium because my right shoulder can't still take the work load,” Balakrishnan said.
“But it has been very satisfying to have lowered the national record again and to have entered the semi-final at the Commonwealth Games. If I was probably fully fit I could have swum sub-26 and made the final. Guess, this is the best I could have achieved considering that a month ago I was lying on a bed in hospital,” he said, pointing to a long scar on the shoulder. His decision to avoid pain-killers made things tougher. “With the strict anti-doping measures, I didn't want to take a chance,” he said.
Two years ago, Balakrishnan missed the cut for the Beijing Olympics. So he trained with single-minded focus to excel at the Commonwealth Games. His efforts paid off when he shaved off 1.6 seconds from his personal best in the 100-metre backstroke and 0.6 of a second in the 50-metre backstroke, his pet events.
“After I was injured in the attack, the doctors advised me to take rest for two weeks. It was really difficult in the sense that I had worked towards being at my best for the Commonwealth Games and then just before the event I couldn't train as well as I wanted. I couldn't walk for four days. But I was always determined to swim at these Games in front of the home crowd,” Balakrishnan said. “My parents and coach were a great source of support during my difficult times.”
The swimmer believes that his time has come. “I am in my third year of engineering (Guindy Engineering College, Anna University) but I have time off to focus on my swimming career. I believe I am peaking at the right time and my best is to come. I have become mentally stronger after what I have gone through this past month. I dream of being in the final of the Olympics.”