Maana on a roll

Top swimmers of the nationals. Maana Patel (above) rewrote the record books thrice to emerge the star of the meet, while P. S. Madhu (below) of Services emerged the men's champion for his outstanding performances in the backstroke events.-PICS: SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH Top swimmers of the nationals. Maana Patel (above) rewrote the record books thrice to emerge the star of the meet, while P. S. Madhu (below) of Services emerged the men's champion for his outstanding performances in the backstroke events.

“I always try to challenge myself and, maybe, that drives me to new records every time,” says Maana Patel, the ‘Best Woman Swimmer’ of the senior National Championship in Kolkata. By Amitabha Das Sharma.

Maana Patel has a way of breaking records. According to the 14-year-old secondary school student from Ahmedabad, she does not have an idol in swimming to look up to. Instead, she prefers to challenge her own records to gain in excellence. At the 68th National Aquatic Championship in Kolkata, Maana rewrote the record books thrice to emerge the star of the meet.

Maana took to swimming by accident. Maana’s mother got her enrolled in a nearby pool in Ahmedabad as she thought that swimming was a good therapy to help cure her child of frequent ailments. However, the move brought to light Maana’s innate talent that eventually turned her into a champion swimmer.

She earned the moniker ‘wonder girl’ at the age of 13 at the last National Championship in Thiruvananthapuram, where she scorched the pool to win gold medals in the 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke events and also erase the National records in all the three events. At the Nationals in Kolkata, it was an extension of her excellence, as Maana ruled the pool with the ease and elan of a true champion.

“I always try to challenge myself and, maybe, that drives me to new records every time,” said the vivacious Maana, a proclaimed fan of the Indian hockey team and its captain Sardar Singh. “My aim now is to win medals in international events, and I am working hard to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio (de Janeiro),” she added.

Maana, who is also the junior National champion and the owner of a host of records, retained the crown of the ‘Best Woman Swimmer’ of the meet after improving upon her National marks in the 50m and 100m backstroke events. Incidentally, she broke the 100m backstroke record twice in a day — in the heats and in the final.

P. S. Madhu of Services emerged the men’s champion for his outstanding performances in the backstroke events. Much like Maana, the recruit from MEG (Bangalore) broke the National records in the 50m and 100m backstroke events and won a third gold in the 200m individual medley. He also won a silver medal in the 200m backstroke, where he was beaten by Rohit Havaldar of Maharashtra.

With three gold medals and a silver, and two records to boot, Madhu overshadowed the doughty Sandeep Sejwal, the 2014 Incheon Asian Games bronze medal winner and the best swimmer at the Thiruvananthapuram Nationals.

Sandeep Sejwal (above) of railways dominated his pet breaststroke event and won four gold medals, including the 4X100M medley relay title. Richa Mishra (below), who had served a two-year ban for failing a dope test, made a remarkable comeback by winning a medal each in the five events that she participated in.-

Sejwal of Railways dominated his pet breaststroke event and won four gold medals, including the 4x100m medley relay title. However, the two record-breaking efforts helped Madhu pull ahead of Sejwal, who failed to create any new mark.

“Doing well in the Nationals is a big achievement and I am happy that I peaked at the right moment. It is now time for me to better my performance in the international arena. I will go back to my coaches to prepare for the bigger events,” said Madhu.

While Maana emerged as the new hope of Indian swimming, Richa Mishra, 31, signalled the return of the old guard with some brilliant performances. Richa, who had served a two-year ban for failing a dope test, made a remarkable comeback by winning a medal each in the five events that she participated in.

“I never thought I would come back so well after the ban. I have always been passionate about swimming and I am trying to surmount the trauma of the ban by winning medals,” said Richa, who won the gold in the 1500m freestyle, 400m and 200m individual medley events. She also won a silver and a bronze in the 800m freestyle and 400m freestyle respectively.

Another big name returning to the mainstream after a two-year hibernation was Virdhawal Khade. The 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games bronze medal winner, who took a two-year break to attend the training for the officer’s post he is currently holding in the Government of Maharashtra’s revenue department, was back to his best, winning the gold in the 50m freestyle and 50m butterfly events.

Sajan Prakash of Railways and Saurabh Sangveklar of Maharashtra were also among the best performers of the meet, winning three gold medals each in the freestyle categories.