Olympian Virdhawal Khade Announces ‘Last Event in India’ at National Games

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Olympian Virdhawal Khade Announces “Last Event in India” at National Games

Olympic swimmer Virdhawal Khade has this week called the National Games in India his “last competitive event … in India,” pointing to the end of the career of one of India’s most notable swimmers.

Khade stopped short of using the word “retirement” in interviews at the 37th National Games. He confirmed later in an interview with the Times of India that he is not yet retiring but rather will, “focus on upcoming international events such as the World Championship and next year’s Olympics.”

His performances, winning the men’s 50 butterfly and 50 freestyle, show he’s still among the nation’s top swimmers at age 32. But after more than 20 years in the pool – he won his first gold medal at the National Games in 2001 – the swimmer from Maharashtra cited the increasing physical cost a swimming career has exacted.

“At heart, I still feel young, but the body is feeling tired now,” Khade said. “Too many years have gone by, and I’ve swum too much in this span. I don’t recover as quickly as I once used to. Earlier I could do 10 events without breaking a sweat, but even 3 events feel like a tall order now. I still enjoy the nerves I get before the race though. I don’t think that feeling will ever leave me.”

Khade added: “This was my last event in India. You might see me again as a coach someday, but this was my last competitive race here for sure.”

Khade made history for India when at age 16 he qualified for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He won a heat in the 100 butterfly there, though he didn’t emerge from prelims. He hasn’t competed at the Olympics since.

In 2010, Khade became the first Indian swimmer to medal at the Asian Games in 24 years, winning bronze in the 50 fly in Guangzhou. A nine-time South Asian Games gold medalist and 13-time medalist, the honors spanning from 2006-19, he is at the leading edge of a younger generation of talents that could put India back on the global swimming map. He swam at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and 2018. At the former, he finished sixth in the men’s 50 fly.

Khade holds national records in the men’s 50 free, 100 free (dating from a super-suited 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games), the 50 fly and 100 fly.

Khade is still swimming at a high level. He won the 50 free 22.82 seconds, edging out Tokyo Olympian Srihari Nataraj. His time took down his record from the 2015 National Games in Kerala (23.00). (His wife, Rujuta Khade, won the women’s 50 free in 26.42, also a National Games record.)

Virdhawal Khade also won the men’s 50 fly in 24.60, clipping .13 seconds off his Games record. He added a bronze medal in the 400 free relay for Maharashtra.

Khade has hinted at retirement before. He’s also begun coaching in Mumbai as part of his post-competition plans.

The win in Goa seems like a kismet place for it to end for him.

“What is also special about this medal is that I won my first national medal back in 2001 in Goa and today it feels like life has come full circle with the gold medal at my last Nationals again in Goa,” he said. “Back then, I could never have imagined I would become the swimmer that I am today, so I really want to thank all the coaches and all the people who have been a part of this journey.”

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