Image Credits: @SaloniDalal
For someone who has made steady progress in the recent years, Saloni Dalal certainly deserves to be considered as one of the most exciting swimming talents in India right now.
Having started swimming at a very young age, the little girl grew up modelling swimmers like Rebecca Soni and honing skills on the pool alongside her brother before slowly making her way through the age groups, impressing at every step.
In 2015, Saloni became the youngest athlete across all sports at the Indian National Games to win a medal. She clocked a 2:47.49 in the 200meter breast, taking home the bronze medal.
Three years later, she made a huge splash by fine-tuning her strokes and expanding her range at the Indian Summer National Championships that saw her not only claiming the gold medals in the 50-, 100-, and 200-meter breaststroke, but also recording best times in each event. Her performances earned the Best Swimmer Award at the end of the meet.
Saloni’s 200 long course meter breaststroke time of 2:41.88 is an Indian national record. She previously held the 100m breaststroke record, until Chahat Arora broke it in October 2020. Additionally, she is the Karnataka state record-holder in the 100 and 200m breaststroke.
The breaststroker gifted with exceptional technique, an astute intelligence and a fairly decent pace, Saloni swims for Rice University for the 2021-2022 season and has been training at Basavanagudi Aquatic Centre under the watchful guidance of John Christopher.
Her composure on the pool and the way she has accustomed to the top level have been admirable. She has not got carried away with the appreciation she has received and looks to keep improving. The 18-year-old knows that to keep progressing she needs new challenges – and sometimes that means being better than she was yesterday.
You are very young, and have quite a few medals under your belt, also the national record holder in 200m breaststroke event and I am sure it must have been a quite whirlwind journey, so tell us about what initially attracted you to swimming, and who were your swimming idols when you were growing up?
My love for swimming began at a very young age. I always felt very happy during and after swimming practice and that is what initially attracted me to the sport. My swimming idols growing up were the senior swimmers in my school and club.
What swimmer did you want to model yourself after when you were growing up?
I wanted to model myself after Rebecca Soni when I was growing up. She was the world record holder in 200m breaststroke at the time. I remember watching her races and being inspired by the way she swam.
We all know that you are successful in your sport. But the first win and the first medal is always special. Do you remember your 1st success as a swimmer? If yes, how will you describe that moment?
My first success was at a competition hosted by Swimlife in 2013. I had been going to this meet for the last 3 years and had not won a medal yet. My favourite event at the time was the 50m Breaststroke. When I dived for the event, my goggles came off. I ended up coming 4th. And my next event, 100 IM, I was really determined to win. I won a bronze in the event and that was my first medal. I still remember that I was very excited about getting a medal, and my family and I got ice cream afterwards to celebrate!
From your experiences, what is the best thing about being a swimmer?
From my experiences, the best thing about being a swimmer or a sportsperson are the lessons and skills you learn from the sport. I have learnt a lot of life lessons through the sport that I don’t think I could have learnt at my age if I had not been a swimmer. Being a swimmer or a sportsperson teaches you skills like goal setting, work ethic, self-discipline, and teamwork which make you well prepared for real-world challenges. The sport taught me so many lessons about life, learning how to be dedicated to something and be committed to something—hard work, practice, and dealing with disappointment.
What would you say is one aspect of your sport that is a real strength for you?
I love to race and to compete. It has always brought the best out of me even when I get to that point where I am in so much pain but I just want to keep going and I think that is one of my biggest strengths in swimming.
Swimming on an elite pathway requires dedication and commitment; aside from providing funding and transport for training, how did your parents support you emotionally pre-competition?
As a family, we try to keep sport and life separate from each other. In other words, my parents don't obsess over swimming at home and that helps me relax and recharge before going back to the pool.
Where do you train now and who is your coach now?
I train at Basavanagudi Aquatic Center. I train under Mr. John Christopher currently.
Are you good in your studies as well? If yes, how do you able to manage sports and studies? How’s your school/college has been supportive towards it?
I have been able to balance swimming and studies by managing my time and eliminating distractions. I was very fortunate to be a part of a school like Inventure Academy that always supported my swimming and academic endeavours. The teacher and management always worked around my swimming schedule and supported me while I was at competitions, and I am very thankful for their encouragement.
I am sure there are times during your training that you aren't achieving the results that you want. What do you do to lift your spirits during such times?
I like to focus on the things I can control rather than focusing on the results. Doing so helps take the pressure off of each training session or race and allows me to stay in the moment. This has helped me get past tough times.
Even if a person reaches the pinnacle, there is always scope for improvement. And in sports, you should improve daily. A healthy competition or rivalry often helps a sportsperson to improve. So, who is that swimmer with whom you have a healthy rivalry?
My brother and I have a healthy rivalry at the moment. We have pretty similar times and are very competitive, so we always push each other when we train together.
What are your most memorable moments from your races? Any ones that stand out that you remember like they were yesterday?
One of my most memorable moments is from the 200m Breaststroke at the Senior Nationals in 2016. I remember that race fondly because I and the girls next to me were neck-to-neck the entire race. That got the entire crowd off their seats and screaming and shouting for us. I was so tired towards the end, but the electric atmosphere and stiff competition kept me going. We all ended up swimming our best times, and it was one of the most exciting races I have swum!
What’s the next tournament you eagerly waiting to compete and win?
With the COVID-19 situation, I haven’t really competed for a while, but I am excited to be swimming and racing at Rice University soon!
Finally, what goals have you set for the years? And for the next years of your college and beyond?
My goal in swimming has always been to keep improving and learning whether that is in relation to my times, technique, or mental aspect of the sport.