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‘It feels surreal,’ says swimmer Maana Patel after winning quota for Tokyo Games

The Ahmadabad girl who is just 21 will be the first and only Indian female swimmer to represent the country in Tokyo Olympics.

By: Sports Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: July 5, 2021 2:07:40 pm
Maana Patel21-year-old Maana Patel sustained an ankle injury in 2019 and only made a comeback earlier this year. (Twitter/KirenRijiju)

Maana Patel turned to swimming at an early age to make up for a poor diet. The Ahmedabad girl, now 21, has not only overcome career threatening shoulder injury, lockdowns et al but now is living her dream of becoming an Olympian.

The Swimming Federation of India had recommended Maana’s name after her performance in the European meets in the past three months to the world governing swimming body, FINA, which was accepted on Friday morning.

Since then Maana has been flooded with congratulatory messages and calls. It was her mother Aanal Patel who attended many of the calls as her daughter was besieged with interviews over Zoom.

Speaking to indianexpress.com on Friday afternoon, Maana kept her poise and said, “The feeling of getting a berth to Olympics is simply amazing. I do not have words to describe it. It’s an amazing feeling. Like many kids, I too grew up watching TV and reading about the Olympic Games and now you are there as a participant, a competitor and representing your beloved country before the world stage. I feel it is surreal.”

The B Com (honours) graduate from SMPIC, Ahmedabad has been training with Dronacharya national coach Nihar Ameen for the past couple of years. “After lockdown was lifted I went to the Bengaluru national camp. From there we went to competitions in Europe. I won a gold medal in the Uzbekistan Open in April, later we competed in Serbia and Italy. In the Belgrade meet, I set a new national record and my personal best of 1 minute 03.77 seconds in 100m backstroke. So that gave a glimmer of hope,” Maana said while packing her luggage to get ready for Olympic preparatory camp in Bengaluru. From there she will be flying to Tokyo directly with Indian contingent.

“I’m determined not to be a tourist in Tokyo. I promised myself I will do sub 1minurte 02 seconds in my favourite event,” said Maana who made the cut thanks to FINA’s universality quota and will compete in ‘B’ standard qualification.

Last Sunday, Australian Kaylee McKeown broke American Regan Smith‘s world record in the 100m backstroke, clocking 57.45 seconds and both the rivals are only 19.

But Maana is simply not threatened by the timing. “I’m simply not bothered about the Olympic and World records. I have got a chance to compete in the Olympics and I will prove that my invitation is worth it by performing my best. It will be a huge learning curve for me. It will reflect in the next couple of years. I hope to win a medal in the next 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games,” Maana said.

Maana is the third swimmer to represent India in the Tokyo Games. “It’s a new era for Indian swimming. Sajan Prakash got ‘A’ standard directly, Sriraj Nataraj and I got ‘A’ and ‘B’ standards respectively through FINA quota. It is like a chain reaction. I think Indian swimming is going to make waves in the immediate future.”

Before signing off, Maana thanked her mentor and first coach Kamlesh Nanavati, parents and support staff of the SFI.

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