‘After Sindhu, nation’s focus will be on Para Badminton in Tokyo’

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World No 1 in Para Badminton, Pramod Bhagat is excited he will be a part of the sport's historic debut at the Tokyo Paralympics.
World No 1 in Para Badminton, Pramod Bhagat is excited he will be a part of the sport's historic debut at the Tokyo Paralympics.

The Tokyo Paralympics begin August 24, and World No. 1 Para Badminton player Pramod Bhagat, a serious gold medal contender, shared his thoughts.

How does it feel that you will be playing in an edition of the Paralympics in which Para Badminton makes its debut?

Pramod: It is an incredible feeling. The planning for introducing Para Badminton in the Paralympics started before the 2012 London Games. In Rio 2016, it looked set to happen. However, there were some issues and we had to wait for another four years. Yeh mere liye bahut special hai (this is very special for me). I want to win the event for my country and will give it all to achieve that goal.

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You will be participating in singles and mixed doubles. Which one are you more eager about?

Pramod: Both are equally important. However, I am World No. 1, so I would like to focus on singles.

 

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Since you will be participating in both events, you will get almost no time to rest in between events. How are you preparing for that?

Pramod: I’m training more to get myself in peak condition. I’m not too worried as I have played singles, doubles and mixed doubles in a tournament a number of times and have done well. In April at Dubai, I had won gold in singles and doubles and bronze in mixed doubles. It is your mentality that matters. If you can be mentally strong you will be successful. There will be added pressure as the event is Paralympics, but I can do it.

This was India’s most successful Olympic campaign, do you think this adds pressure to perform better at the Paralympics? 

Pramod: I always try to remain calm when I play and give my 200%. I prefer playing with a free mind, unburdened by the weight of the score or situation, no matter the state of the game. After PV Sindhu’s back-to-back medals at the Olympics, the nation will be looking at the Para Badminton players. I hope our Paralympic contingent can get many podium finishes. This will show that Para athletes are a force to be reckoned with.

 

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What is the reason for the attention Para sports are getting in India? 

Pramod: This happened due to the great performance by Indian Para athletes at Rio 2016. This made the government, media and Indian sports audience take notice. Our Para athletes are world class, with many of them being the world record holders. Our hard work is paying off as we progressively started bringing in more medals. The government started investing and there are new facilities, and our Para athletes are even going abroad to train.

What is your support system like?

Pramod: TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme) has been a huge help. Moreover, the Central Government and Odisha Government provided a lot of support. I didn’t have to worry much during lockdown. They provided stadiums to practice, a mini gym at home.

 

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You began your career as a badminton player in the general category. Did it get too hard that you shifted to Para Badminton?

Pramod: I had been playing badminton for 4-5 years before I shifted to Para Badminton. I took this decision because it gave me a better opportunity. This is an expensive sport, and you need to invest a lot at the outset to get returns. I hail from a middle-class family, and at one point it became impossible for my parents to bear my expenses. I had almost given up my dream of playing badminton at the highest level. Back then, I did not know about Para sport and thought I was the only disabled athlete who played badminton. In 2005, I came to know about Para Badminton and have never looked back.

Have you ever had to face discrimination because of your disability? 

Pramod: I used to compete and was good. Everyone knew it, but there was very little recognition. My family told me to give up the sport a few times because they felt I was wasting my time. From 2005-2013, it was a rough phase since the sport was not well known. However, I believed that patience would lead to success. I persisted with Para sports, and it paid off in 2013 when I became World No. 1.

It has been a long journey to reach where you are

Pramod: Like any athlete, it was struggle at first. Getting better at the game, starting to beat stronger opponents, becoming recognised, reaching the top rank has been slow progress. Having reached the position I am in now it has been worth it.

Text: SportSavour

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