CHENNAI: Soon after claiming the historic gold in the men's singles SL3 category in the Tokyo Paralympics on Friday, India's para shuttler Pramod Bhagat dropped his racquet and jumped into the arms of coach Gaurav Khanna. "We are like a family. We have been training together for years. He is like my father, big brother and friend and I wanted to celebrate the moment with him," Bhagat later said about his coach. Manoj Sarkar, the bronze medallist in the category, too echoed the lines. "It was Gaurav sir who made me aware of the para games," said Sarkar.
These words encapsulate Khanna's contribution to Indian para badminton. The sport made its debut at this Paralympics and Khanna had to scout talent from across the country and train them. Players like Manoj didn't even know that badminton competitions are being organised for para athletes. But the coach had the vision to invest in players, disabled-friendly courts and training facilities. Seeing the ordeal of para-shuttlers on normal courts, the coach started building a complex in Lucknow.
Khanna went a step ahead when the nationwide lockdown last year made it difficult for these shuttlers to stay and train together. He bought a piece of land (2,500 square feet) and constructed a state-of-the-art accommodation-cum-recovery centre on the outskirts of Lucknow by raising a loan of more than Rs 1 crore. When the national head coach was conferred with Dronacharya Award last year he invested his prize money of Rs 10 lakh towards building the academy.
"Earlier, we had rented flats in the locality so that the shuttlers can stay and train together. But those flats were not disabled-friendly. Lockdown made it more difficult so I decided to build a place for the athletes. The facility has nine rooms and one big hall. And it's disabled-friendly. Apart from the accommodation, it has a gym, steam bath, sauna bath, hydrotherapy, jacuzzi pool and massage centre which proved to be of great help for these athletes," coach Khanna told this daily from Tokyo.
The academy named the Gaurav Khanna Excellia Badminton Academy was inaugurated in December 2019 while the accommodation-cum-recovery centre named Drona Paralympic House became operational seven months later. The academy was built in collaboration with Excellia School, whose director is Khanna's friend. It boasts four courts including two mini-wooden courts and has been designed keeping in mind various disabilities these para shuttlers suffer from. "I pay a monthly EMI of Rs 90,000 but a lot of people have come forward to help us," hoped Khanna.
Sports Authority of India's Target Olympics Podium Scheme too helped the athletes during their training. And the coach can expect a lot more from his wards this edition on Sunday.