"Maana Patel has inspired many": Kamlesh Nanavati, on his student's journey to the Tokyo Olympics

Maana Patel with Kamlesh Nanavati
Maana Patel with Kamlesh Nanavati

Maana Patel has been knocking on the door of international recognition in swimming for quite some time now. The 21-year-old from Ahmedabad has been a constant name on the podium in India’s national circuit competitions throughout the last decade. Her domination was rewarded when FINA accepted her entry into the Tokyo Olympics 2020 through the universality quota.

This makes her the third Indian swimmer at this year’s games along with Srihari Nataraj and Sajan Prakash. Maana will be the only female swimmer from India competing at the Tokyo Olympics. She will compete in the 100m backstroke event after making the ‘B’ qualification time with a 1.03.77 finish in an event in Serbia in 2021.

Credit for Maana Patel’s impressive rise belongs to a certain Kamlesh Nanavati. Nanavati has been a colossal figure in Indian swimming for almost three decades now. It is said that a good sports administrator is a good servant of the game. Nanavati has served the sport with all his heart. Having been a swimmer back in his days, he represented India at the 1978 World Long Distance Swimming Championship in London.

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As an administrator, he served as the General Secretary of the Swimming Federation of India from 2011 to 2019. He has also been the tournament director for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the Khelo India Games and several national championships.

Maana Patel's journey from Ahmedabad to Tokyo

Sportskeeda had an exclusive chat with Kamlesh Nanavati ahead of Maana's grand journey at the Tokyo Olympics. The veteran swimmer talked about his student Maana, her impact on young swimmers, and India’s prospects in swimming at future global events.

Remembering how Maana chose her specialty, Kamlesh Nanavati said:

“Maana has been with me since 2010. The first thing I ensure with every student is that their strokes are correct. We taught all four strokes and Maana responded the best in the backstroke. In 2011, she started winning medals at various school games. In 2012, in the sub-junior category, she broke three records.”

It was with an India-best performance at the 2014 nationals that Maana Patel was recognized as the next big thing in Indian swimming. She continued to impress with gold medals in the backstroke events at the National Games in 2015. Her journey from that point to the Tokyo Olympics has been nothing short of remarkable. Nanavati said:

“In 2015, funded by the Gujrat Government, she flew to the United States to prepare for the Rio Olympics. Unfortunately, she couldn’t secure a qualification. When she returned, she joined the Glenmark Aquatic Foundation, in Mumbai, under coach Peter Carswell.”

After a series of successful results, in 2016, Maana faced her biggest setback – a shoulder injury. Speaking about the injury’s impact on her, Nanavati said:

“The injury really halted her progress. She couldn’t participate or practice anywhere. She ended up missing several national and international events.”

After recovering from her injury, Maana continued her steady ascent to the top. She won three gold medals at the 72nd Senior National Aquatics Championships in 2018. That same year, she won all the backstroke events at the Senior Nationals in Thiruvananthapuram.

Also Read: India swimmers Srihari Nataraj, Maana Patel move closer to Tokyo Olympics spots

On the reasons behind her success at such a young age, Kamlesh Nanavati said:

“She is sincere and disciplined. She has taken her training very seriously. I have always emphasized the importance of discipline and punctuality. Maana understood their importance in a sportsperson’s life and imbibed these qualities at a very young age.”

During the lockdown, training proved to be a difficult task for swimmers all across the country. To help Maana, who was trying to manage a place at the Olympics, Nanavati found a way. He said:

“I took permission from the police academy here to allow her to train at their pool. Thankfully, they agreed. This kept her practice going.”

After the first lockdown ended, Maana headed to Bengaluru to train under Nihar Ameen at the national camp. After that, she participated in several competitions in Europe, where she finally met the ‘B’ qualification criteria and booked a berth at the Tokyo Olympics.

Also Read: Tokyo Olympics 2020: Watershed moment for Indian swimming as Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj qualify for Tokyo

On Maana’s realistic chances in Tokyo, Nanavati said:

“My first wish was to see her compete at the Olympics. She has fulfilled that. She practiced here for 10-15 days before leaving for Bengaluru and seemed to be in good form. She is confident that she’ll breach the 1 minute 2 seconds mark. She is also familiar with the pool. She participated at the same venue during the Asian age group events, so that should help.”

Nanavati also mentioned that this year’s performance by Indian swimmers will pave the way for them in the upcoming competitions. He said:

“Maana is one of many. We also have Sajan and Srihari who qualified for the Olympics. Apart from them, experienced swimmers like Virdhawal are also there. So, the future looks bright. We have good chances of winning at the upcoming Asian Games.”

He added that swimmers like Maana are proving to be ambassadors of the sport and inspiring younger kids to take up swimming.

“Maana has inspired that if a simple girl from Ahmedabad can reach the Olympics, then anyone can. People say that Kamlesh bhai’s student has reached the Olympics, so we should also promote our children as well to participate.”

Also Read: Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj at Tokyo Olympics Swimming: When and where to watch, events, TV and LIVE streaming details

Nanavati seems unfazed by the daunting pressure put on Maana Patel for the Olympics. He has faith in her abilities and is confident that his student will swim through and excel.

Away from all the limelight, the Dhyand Chand Lifetime Achievement award nominee for this year, continues his service towards Indian swimming at his academy – training more swimmers to represent India on the global stage.

Also read - Tokyo Olympics 2021 Schedule

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Edited by Diptanil Roy
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