‘Kehte hain kisi cheez ko dil se chaho…’ ‘to poori kainath use tumse milane ki koshish mein lag jaati hai’ – this dialogue by Shah Rukh Khan could be associated with this Paralympics star.
Pramod Bhagat exceeded everyone’s expectations by winning gold in the first-ever badminton event at the Paralympics in Tokyo.
Since breaking onto the scene in 2006, Bhagat has consistently finished on the podium, including gold medals at the World Championships and Asian Para Games. It had been a long but fruitful journey, but nothing could deter the 33-year-old, not even a defect in his leg.
The shuttler, who debuted in a tournament at the age of 15, has since won numerous awards in his career, but it was the Paralympics and the yellow metal that Bhagat had his sights set on. The Bhubaneswar-based athlete spoke to DNAindia.com about his journey, preparation, and the bronze medal he missed in the mixed-doubles at the recently concluded Paralympics.
CHILDHOOD DREAM COMES TRUE!
I can’t believe how happy I am today
as a kid I took inspiration from Sir @sachin_rt
The words you spoke to me today will stay with me forever & will keep inspiring me for life.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart
I will be sleepless tonight pic.twitter.com/KdssKlFqij
— Pramod Bhagat (@PramodBhagat83) September 8, 2021
The five-time World Champion and one-time Asian Games champion was overjoyed to learn that badminton would be included in the Paralympics. “It had always been my dream to compete in the Paralympics. I’ve wanted to compete in the Paralympics since I first started playing the sport. I knew I’d qualify because I was world number one, but the sensation was new to me, and when I heard the news, I had butterflies in my stomach.”
“It was something I had been striving for. We’d been working on my game for more than 8 hours a day. During the lockdown, I improved my physical fitness while also working on my strokes and attempting to eliminate flaws. Since the day I became a professional player, the process has remained consistent, and nothing has changed to this day “Bhagat stated.
In fact, Bhagat was considered the favourite to win gold in the Men’s singles SL3 (standing/lower limb impairment/minor) category. So, when asked if he felt any pressure, he replied, “Yes, there was a lot of pressure to win gold from everyone, but that only motivated me to work harder and make sure I not only fulfilled my dream, but also the dream of the entire nation. When I play, there is always a sense of pressure to win, which I use to motivate myself “He went on to say
In the finals, the para-athlete faced Daniel Bethell of Great Britain, and while the Indian won the first game easily, the second, which also happened to be the final of the competition, saw him stage a remarkable comeback, eventually closing the contest with a 21-14, 21-17 scoreline.
When asked about his return, Bhagat stated: “Bethell is a fantastic player, and we’ve had some great duals in the past. He also performed admirably in the final. I played really well in the first game, but Bethell played some great strokes and used strategy to take the lead in the second game.”
“I was down but not out; all I cared about was winning one point at a time. I knew I’d be able to win the game the moment I realised I was on a roll. It was difficult for me mentally, and I had to change my strategy as well; once I won the last point, the rest is history.”
While we were all focusing on the gold, the top-seeded Indian also competed in a mixed doubles event with Palak Kohli, finishing fourth in their respective event. However, the pair were unable to overcome the local shuttlers and lost their bronze medal match 21-23 19-21 to Japan’s Daisuke Fujihara and Akiko Sugino.
The 33-year-old shared his thoughts on missing out on multiple Paralympic medals at the same event, saying: “I haven’t played much with Palak, and we’re still trying to figure out how each other’s games work. Palak is a valuable asset and the sport’s future.”
“I am disappointed that we did not win the bronze medal in the competition; we gave it our all but were unable to complete the game. I would have loved to have received a bronze medal in this category.”
THANK YOU INDIA
Ye medal har ek Indian ka hai jo sapne dekhta hai. Main tahe dil se Central government, meri Odisha government aur Humare Prime minister Modi ji ko dhanyavad kehta hoon. Ye jeet har us insan ki hai jisne mujhe support kiya hai.
Jai Hind pic.twitter.com/WK7FZYfixd
— Pramod Bhagat (@PramodBhagat83) September 7, 2021
Meanwhile, India had their best medal haul at the Paralympics, finishing with 19 medals – five golds, eight silvers, and six bronzes. India’s previous best tally in a single edition was four, achieved in 2016 and 1984, though the former saw more gold medals.
In response to India’s success at the Games, Bhagat stated: “It’s fantastic to see so many people succeed in the tournament. I am overjoyed; we all put in a lot of effort, and the results speak for themselves.”
“I am confident that this victory will provide a solid foundation for future generations. The government, SAI, and TOPS have done an excellent job, and I am confident that these results will encourage them to promote the sport even further.”
“The target is set to repeat my gold medal feat in singles and ensure I win a medal in other categories as well,” the shuttler said of his next target and goals for the next Paralympics, which will be held in Paris in 2024.
“It’s a dream come true for me, and my focus has already shifted to giving it my all in both the world championship and Paris. Finally, I would like to provide a platform for young people interested in participating in sports and ensure that they have access to all of the resources that I did not have when I was younger.”
Before signing off, Bhagat thanked everyone who had helped him along the way.