CHENNAI: Badminton made its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics with seven para shuttlers including two women from the country getting an opportunity to compete at the marquee event. Expectations were high from the Indian para shuttlers ahead of the event and they lived up to it as two of them won medals including gold on Saturday. Apart from these two medallists, five from the country sailed into medal rounds.
Reigning world champion Pramod Bhagat was the star of the day as he claimed a historic gold medal in the men’s singles SL3 class with compatriot Manoj Sarkar bagging bronze in the category.
Infected with polio at the age of five, lack of proper treatment caused deformity in Bhagat’s leg but he continued playing sports before shifting focus on badminton in 2002. The decision paid dividends as he defeated second-seeded Daniel Bethell from Great Britain 21-14, 21-17 to finish on the top of the podium.
“It’s like a dream coming true as every athlete wishes to win a medal at the grandest stage and I did this today by winning a gold medal,” said Bhagat in an interaction facilitated by the official broadcaster Eurosport and Paralympic Committee of India (PCI).
The final scores might suggest Bhagat had won the gold medal match comfortably but it was far from easy, especially in the second game where he was trailing 4-11. “I always think that I am the best. Even coach Gaurav Khanna sir was confident that I can finish off the match in straight sets,” said Bhagat.
Coach Khanna affirmed that Bhagat had made such comebacks in the past and he was confident of him winning the game. “We trained simulating match situations and making a comeback is not new for Bhagat,” he said.
Meanwhile, Khanna’s other ward Sarkar made it two by bagging bronze. The 31-year-old Sarkar, whose right leg was affected after he contracted polio, displayed great resilience during his 22-20, 21-13 win over Japan’s Daisuke Fujihara. Sarkar had lost his semifinals against Bethell, going down 8-21, 10-21. But he recovered quickly from the defeat to claim the bronze.
“I wanted to win the first game and once I did that, I wanted to finish off the match quickly so that I have a psychological edge over the Japanese shuttler the next time we meet,” said an elated Sarkar. He credited coach Khanna for bringing all of them under one roof and providing them facilities to train for the mega event even during the lockdown.
And the medal rush in badminton will continue for the country and coach on Sunday as Suhas Yathiraj and Krishna Nagar also sailed into the men’s singles finals of SL4 class and SH6 class respectively assuring themselves at least a silver each. Tarun Dhillon too stayed in contention for bronze after losing his semifinals earlier on Saturday. Bhagat also remains in contention for a bronze medal in mixed doubles SL3-SU5 class. The 33-year-old from Bhubaneswar and his partner Palak Kohli will meet Japanese pair of Daisuke Fujihara and Akiko Sugino in the bronze medal play-off on Sunday.
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He played inter-school competition against able-bodied players till the 11th grade before starting to compete in para badminton in 2011.
He won a gold medal in the SL3 singles at the 2016 Asian Championships in Beijing.
In 2018, he received the Arjuna Award and a year later, he was named Para Sportsman of the Year at the Sportstar Aces Awards.
Earlier in the day, Suhas Yathiraj and Krishna Nagar also sailed into the men's singles finals of SL4 class and SH6 class respectively.