India’s Virdhawal Khade marginally bettered his long-standing national record to get closer to his second Asian Games medal as he qualified for the men’s 50m freestyle final by clocking 22.43s which was third fastest time in the heats, here today.

Khade, who won a bronze at the Guangzhou Games in 2010, faced stiff competition from Japan’s Shunichi Nakao (22.62) but emerged the fastest in the eight-man heat 5.

It was new national record in 50m freestyle as he bettered his own mark of 22.52, set in August 2009 at Asian Age group swimming championships in Japan. Overall, Khade was third behind China’s Hexin Yu (22.21) and Hong Kong’s Kenneth King Him To (22.38).

Anshul Kothari could not qualify for the final as he finished 28th with a timing of 23.83. He was fastest in heat 1. “I am keeping fingers crossed but I think medal is within each. I have prepared well in the last one and a half years. It’s a sprint, so you never know what happens in final but I will give myself a chance. It’s possible,” Khade, 26, told PTI . “The top two may be fitter than me but mentally I am stronger than them. I have experience and I will try to use it in the final.”

Khade said he was pleased with his improvement after making a comeback to the pool. “After 10 years, I am competing at such a big event. I was also at the CWG also but there, I could not perform to my potential. I had timed 23.11 there, so it is half a second fast. Hopefully, I will be able to cut down more and get a medal.”

On bettering his own national mark and improving upon his timing from CWG, the 26-year-old said, “I have worked on strength and fitness since January with my coach in Bengaluru. I have improved since January in every competition. Regular competition has helped me.”

The final will be held in the evening today.

Khade had taken a break from swimming for four years due to job commitment. He works as a Tehsildar for the Mahatrashtra Government.

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