The Madras Sharks: Quest to conquer “The Underwater World”



Courtesy : Saurabh Mathur and Sree Ram Sai Chandrala


The Inter-IIT Aquatics Meet, comprising of Swimming and Waterpolo sports, is all set to be held between 1st and 4th of October. The theme this time is “The Underwater World” and all the sixteen major IITs are coming in strong to exercise their dominance over this ‘world’.


The Aquatics team, better known as ‘The Madras Sharks’, have established themselves as the aquatics powerhouse, shelling out many victorious campaigns over the years. They manage to do so by following rigorous practice schedule which demands about five hours of practice on weekdays, stretching upto six on weekends. Last  year, the men swept the board, finishing first, mainly due to Akshay Krishna’s record breaking run in all of his five events and a Bronze in Water Polo.  A similar single handed domination was displayed by IIT Roorkee’s Nivedita Sharma, whose performance pushed our Women’s team down to second. However, with the graduation of both these Goliaths and with the reduction of participation from a maximum of five to a maximum of three events, the competition this time will be much more open and probably, human.


With the Aquatics Meet just over a week away, we decided to attend one of the practice sessions of ‘The Madras Sharks’ to see what it took to fuel their insatiable desire for success. While procrastination defines the order of our day, these students practice from 05:30-07:30 in the morning followed by 17:30-20:30 in the evening, with a drive that’s commendable. The session begins with a dry warm-up comprising of basic stretches, followed by  a thirty-two lap swim workout, requiring them to perform all the four competitive strokes – freestyle, breast, butterfly and back- for eight laps each. This is followed by stroke-specific practice drills, with the players having to make continuous 50m sprints, to improve their timing. This is followed by pulling, where one uses a ‘pull buoy’ to restrict leg movement and stay afloat, while focusing just on improving arm stroke and upper body strength. This is followed by another 15-minute session of sprints. Just when the practice seems to have started taking a toll on the team, the coach whistles for the Water Polo goals to be fixed. Yes, you read that bit right.

The handball practice commences thereafter since the contingent size restriction to twelve demands that the swimmers be all-rounders of sorts. The water polo drills are basically about change of direction in the water and staying up for as long as possible. They cap it off with a few passing and shooting drills, followed by a match till the end of the practice session.

This highly demanding training regimen convinced me that the Sharks could be one of the hardest working institute teams.  When I realised a bit later that these guys do it twice a day, it hit me much harder. Most of us drag our bodies back to our rooms in a soporific state at the end of classes, whereas these guys are out there sweating it out on either side of the classes. What is more commendable about their dedication is that over twenty-five students attend practice on a regular basis, knowing that the coach will finalise a contingent of only twelve, that too a couple of days before the meet.

I caught up with a few of our ‘Sharks’ to check on how close they are to quenching their ‘thirst for gold’ and conquering ‘The Underwater World’. 


Kartik Tyagi– He was last year’s water polo captain and is currently in final year of his Dual Degree program in Mech. He describes himself as the entertainment provider for the team, keeping spirits high by pulling his team-mates’ legs all the time. All in a friendly sense, of course. Here’s an excerpt from his interview –

Kartik Tyagi, on the left. Courtesy : Saurabh Mathur

What effect has the team’s roster change had on the team’s mentality and practice sessions?

We have had 6 graduates from the team this year, 4 from the water polo team itself. The absence of Akshay Krishna, who was our source of five definite gold finishes for two years, has left us with no option but pour our hearts out to fill his void. With half a dozen people gone, we were left with the uphill task of developing new water polo players and event specialists. Developing a new goalkeeper was the most challenging task amongst them all. However the enthusiasm shown by the second year students, made our task easier. We’ve achieved what we wanted to from our two month practice and our team is in good shape for the tournament but it is the inexperience of the team that might drive the situation awry.

How have you been preparing for the Inter IIT Aquatics Meet 2015?

Just like the others, I’ve been giving it my all for the five hours of practice that we have every day. The coach is very serious about practice and his drive inspires us all to be focussed. The sessions take a physical toll on us but we have to keep working hard, knowing that our team is relatively inexperienced and practice is the only way we can negate that factor.

All of us have been enduring physical pain and are physically sore but this doesn’t dampen our dedication to the cause. Studies have taken a backseat momentarily, as these many hours of practice drains us of all our energy. In fact, we even had a few practice sessions during the quizzes. Now, that is a testament of our dedication to the team.

That’s pretty much about my physical preparation, but my mental preparation revolves around maintaining a positive mind-set. The enthusiasm of the newcomers has helped a lot, by making us less insecure about the inexperience of our side.

What are the team’s chances for this year’s Aquatics Meet?

The team has a good chance but it faces stiff competition from IIT Kharagpur. They’ve had the same team for over two years, with practically no graduates. Their team is not just experienced but also full of seasoned players, making them favourites on paper. Getting a position may not be a problem because our closest rivals, Bombay and Kanpur, have also been withered off of all their experienced players and they too will participate with a fairly inexperienced team.

Also, with the new rule reducing of maximum participation of an individual from five to three events, there’s smaller chance of a single athlete swinging the Meet in the favour of his/her institute. This factor along with the home support and the dedication shown by the team over the last two months should direct us towards a successful campaign this time around again.


Gayathri S. A second year Ph.D student in Biotechnology, she is the current captain of the Women’s swim team and is equipped with an eclectic skillset, excelling on and off the sporting field. A very shy and timid personality outside the pool but a contrasting individual in it. Here is an excerpt from her interview –

Gayathri S, on the left. Courtesy : Saurabh Mathur

What effect has the team roster change had on the team mentality and practice sessions?

We had only one vacancy as one of the senior members had dropped out,  but her void in the relay team has been filled by an equally good freshie, Kamala from the HS department. We’re lucky not to have the misfortune that has befallen the guys…our team being as strong as last year, it has had a positive impact on the team mentality. However, there is no room for complacency and the coach has ensured that by putting us through a rigorous two month camp to get us prepared for the meet. The team looks all set and being the captain, I’m satisfied with our progress.

How have you been preparing for the Inter IIT Aquatics Meet 2015?

We’ve been attending our practices religiously and it is good to have focussed teammates because it makes my job as a captain easier. The team has had to endure a lot physically but we’ve been going strong and I believe all of us have been fighting through physical pain. What keeps us going is the fact that we’re putting up a show in front of the home crowd and it’s our duty to live up to the crowd’s expectations. I’m mentally prepared for the Meet and progress of the team gives me a great deal of confidence.

What are the team’s chances for this year’s Aquatics Meet?

We finished with a Silver last year. Our major competition then was Roorkee, but with Nivedita Sharma having graduated, and with the three-event rule, I think we have a very good chance of snatching the trophy this time. It’s advisable to bottle up our confidence and take the Meet one day at a time. We have specialized swimmers for every event and the fresher substitute in the relay team has left us with no missing chunks in our swim team armoury. I believe we stand a very good chance of bringing IIT-M the gold this time around.


Sunny Mathew- He is the coach of ‘The Madras Sharks’ and has been witness to various ups and downs of the team over the past few years. A man of calm demeanour, who believes in ‘coaching’ the team rather than grilling them, enables the building of an open athlete-coach relationship. It was a delight to have his interview. Here’s an excerpt-

Sunny Mathew, Swimming and Waterpolo coach. Courtesy : Saurabh Mathur

What effect has the team roster change had on the team mentality and practice sessions?

The guys have had to fill in a big void with many of the players having graduated last year. The water polo team was reduced by more than half and the team reconstruction was the most enduring task over the training program. However, I’m happy with the amount of dedication that both teams have shown and are continuing to show despite the physical demands of our training program. The girls were lucky enough to get a good fresher who filled up the single vacancy, making their claim to this time’s championship much stronger, in my belief.

How have you been preparing the team for Inter IIT Aquatics Meet 2015?

Our training program always follows the same schedule. We started off with a two month training program and since we had to handle a dozen of inexperienced players, we made the practice sessions much longer and rigorous. Even though they were blessed with the skill, it’s the big stage preparation that matters and we worked hard on all of it. The girls are a bright patch for us and we’ve done our best to not complacency creep in. Both our teams are in shape, physically, and they’ve gone about their practice without shirking their work. I’m content with our preparation for this year’s Meet. 

What are the team’s chances for this year’s Aquatics Meet?

The girls have a very good chance of winning the Meet because of the departure of Roorkee’s Nivedita Sharma along with the change of individual event participation rules. They have a specialized swimmer for all the races – so we have a good deal of faith in them. But as I’ve mentioned before, we’ve worked to not let this fact make them complacent. Gayathri is captain material and her influence shall guide the team to success. The boys, face tough competition from all around and especially from Kharagpur, but I’m confident that we’ll get placed in the top 4 positions comfortably. The absence of Akshay Krishna will be felt but Anirban Nag and Anand Krishnan have put in a lot of hours to ensure that they deliver his quota of medals this time around. All in all, I’m content with how the team has progressed over the past couple of months and I’m confident about this year’s Meet.


The Aquatics Meet contributes a crucial 20 points towards the Men’s General Championship with Water Polo and Swimming claiming 10 points each. In the Women’s General Championship, Swimming contributes a total of 10 points. A lead gained in the Aquatics meet would inevitably boost the morale of the rest of the contingent participating in the Main Meet to be held in December. Be sure to come and cheer the Madras team as the ball starts rolling from October 1st.


This in an article in our Fever Pitch series on Inter-IIT 2015. Enthusiastic sports writers are welcome to join T5E, as we aim for an extensive coverage of the Sports Meet. Drop an e-mail to [email protected], if interested.



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