BENGALURU: A gold at the Commonwealth Games debut and beating a world champion with a stunning comeback after losing the first game narrowly, and the exhaustion vanished giving way to exhilaration for Lakshya Sen who has travelled from Birmingham to Hyderabad and finally, Bengaluru. The golden boy of the Men’s single badminton, Sen was given a rousing reception with a live band playing the dhol.
Before heading home, Sen went to the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy, where he was coached by the champion Prakash Padukone, who was the first to win a gold medal at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, and forme r national champion Vimal Kumar. For a champion, the place where he hones his skills is always sacred, and Sen was extremely grateful to his coaches for his victory by pummelling Malaysia’s Ng Tze Yong.
Earlier, in the Commonwealth Games, he was part of the silver -winning Indian mixed team. After an hour of the excruciating battle with the racquet, Sen’s moment of glory was demonstrated by shirtthrowing into the crowd and sending the racquet into the air. “It was not planned. I was so happy that I didn’t know what to do,” says Sen coyly.
Encountering a rough start, he was prepared for it. “I didn’t play the Malaysia Open to give myself a break, and try to get back to training again. I was really looking forward to playing the Commonwealth Games. The way the tournament shaped out, I was not very confident, but once I went there and played a few matches, I regained my confidence.
My game kept getting better and better,” reveals Sen, who was also part of the Indian squad which clinched the Thomas Cup title. On the firmament of badminton, he is now a lodestar, and Sen is aware of the fanfare which comes with it. And he is enjoying it. “In one of the matches in Birmingham, there were many Indian spectators who were cheering for India. I waved my hands at them as a sign for them to cheer more, which kept getting louder and louder. It’s a terrific feeling,” says the young player.
Riding the wave of an international victory, Sen has no time to waste with a packed itinerary ahead. “I will try to recover first, and we (the winners) have to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 12. After that, I will resume training for the world championship,” says the 21-year-old, who hates ice baths which help athletes recover. What does the champ do when he is not following a gruelling training regime or thrashing opponents? Like anyone his age, Sen hangs out with friends.
“Since I stay far away from the city, I have to plan out my day when I catch up with friends. I also love playing on my playstation and watching thrillers,” says Sen, who moved to Bengaluru from Uttarakhand, when he was about nine to fulfil his ‘lakshya’ of becoming a champion shuttler.
‘HE WAS UNDER A LOT OF PRESSURE TO WIN’
“Four weeks prior to the Commonwealth Games when Sen was playing in Malaysia – just after the Thomas Uber Cup – he had shoulder issues. It was quite painful and when he came back and was in Mumbai for recovery. He was really down. During the practice sessions, he felt he was not playing well enough. At that point I said, ‘No, you are going to play the matches.
When you start playing a few matches, you will automatically get your strokes right.’ I also told him that he’s a top player, and once he gets to the arena, things would fall into place’. And that’s exactly what happened. I am now so happy for him, because he was under so much pressure to win matches.” — Vimal Kumar, coach