New friendships, celebrity encounters keep Maana Patel going in Tokyo

From dining with Sindhu to taking directions from Mary Kom, Indian swimmer Maana Patel lives the dream in Tokyo.

Indian swimmer Maana Patel and PV Sindhu have become friends in the process of staying together at the Athlete Village in the run-up to the Tokyo Games. Seen here with Patel's physiotherapist B. Evangeline.   -  Special arrangement

From dining with Olympic silver medallist P. V. Sindhu and bumping into Olympic bronze-medallist Mary Kom to unknowingly getting her picture taken by Russia’s two-time Olympic silver medallist Yulia Efimova, Indian swimmer Maana Patel is not shying away from getting a little starstruck in Tokyo. 

The 21-year-old 100m backstroke swimmer from Ahmedabad is the only Indian female swimmer at the Tokyo Olympics and is soaking in the spectacle of the Games in its entirety. 

“We’ve had a few funny incidents here. Hari (Srihari Nataraj) and I wanted a photo on the first day. Everyone here is among the top athletes in the world but the masks make it tough to identify them. We asked one of the girls at the pool if she could take a photo of us. She took some nice pictures and even gave us ideas on how to pose. Then when she took off her mask, we realised that she was Yulia Efimova!” she animatedly tells Sportstar.

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Efimova is a six-time world champion and won two silvers at the 2016 Rio Games in 100m and 200m breaststroke and a bronze at the 2012 Games in the 200m breaststroke. 

Maana would go on to bump into Mary later in the day. “I was looking for the vending machines and saw an athlete in the India jersey. So I said, “Excuse me, could you please tell me where the vending machines are?” And that happened to be Mary Kom!

The Olympic debutant has also befriended one of India's brightest medal prospects at the Games - Sindhu. “I can say I am friends with Sindhu now. I've been having dinner and breakfast with her. I think she's the most humble person I've ever met. She's so amazing and grounded despite everything she's achieved. Being around these champions and their positive auras is so motivating.”

She is quick to add: “It's been amazing, but I'm still taking one day at a time. I don't think about my training sessions when I'm not at the pool. I try to live in the present, explore the village and relax so that I’m not overthinking and draining myself mentally.”

The 21-year-old has set herself a target to record a new personal best. Her current best is 1:03.77 seconds. “I am looking forward to a good race and just focusing on clocking a personal best,” she adds.

Maana will be in action at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre when the women's 100m backstroke heats begin on July 25.

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