Quadruple world champion Pramod Bhagat made history by becoming the first Indian to win a gold medal in badminton at the Paralympic Games of the Tokyo 2020 Games on Saturday. Seeded Bhagat beat second-seeded Briton Daniel Bethell 21-14, 21-17 in the SL3 men’s singles final.
Bhagat has been completely dominant throughout the week, winning all four of his matches and losing just one, against compatriot Sarkar in his opener en route to the final.
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India’s Manoj Sarkar won bronze in the same event after beating Japan’s Daisuke Fujihara 22-20, 21-13 in the bronze medal match. Ranked 3rd in the SL 3 category in the world rankings, Sarkar is a multiple medalist at the World Para-badminton Championships and the Asian Games.
This is the first time badminton has been played at the Paralympic Games. Bhagat will have the chance to add to his medal tally again on Sunday, when he teamed up with Palak Kohli in the SL3-SU5 mixed doubles bronze medal match against Japan’s Daisuke Fujihara and Akiko Sugino.
“It’s very special to me, it’s my dream come true. Bethell really pushed me but I just kept my cool and used my strength,” Bhagat said after the game.
“I would like to dedicate this to my parents and everyone who has supported me throughout. I am happy that I was able to make India proud.” Bhagat said he had a strategy in place for his rival.
“I faced the same opponent in Japan two years ago and lost. It was a learning opportunity for me. Today was the same stadium and the same environment, and I devised a strategy to win. I was very determined. “
Bhagat’s medal is India’s fourth gold medal at these Paralympic Games after Avani Lekhara in the women’s SH1 standing 10m air rifle event, Sumit Antil in the men’s category in the F64 javelin throw and Manish Narwal in the 50m SH1 pistol mixed event earlier today.
India’s four gold medals are by far their highest number in a single Paralympic Games. They had already won four gold medals in 11 editions in which they participated from 1968 to 2016.
Officially, India’s total medals at the Tokyo Paralympic Games now stand at 17, including four gold, seven silver and six bronze. Their previous record was four medals at the Stoke Mandeville and New York Paralympic Games in 1984 and at the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016.
Bhagat and Bethell were close in the initial exchanges before Bhagat used his higher experience and his us to move forward. He then maintained a comfortable lead throughout the opener. Things got tougher for Bhagat in Game 2 as he trailed 4-12 at one point before staging a remarkable recovery to equalize and ultimately take the lead.
Bhagat had won two gold medals at the BWF Para World Championships in the men’s SL3 singles and doubles categories in 2019 and is one of the most decorated players in the SL3 category.
Bhagat, born in the small town of Attabira in Odisha, has always been a dreamer. “I was the quintessential baccha honhaar (devoted child),” he told ESPN earlier this year. “I always strived to do my best, and I used to learn skills pretty quickly. It was almost like I had a sportsman built inside of me.”
He contracted polio at the age of five and developed a deformity in his left leg. However, not once has this stopped him from continuing his love for the sport.
As a child he loved cricket and was a proud opening batsman in local tournaments. In his teenage years however, Bhagat developed a new taste for badminton. “It wasn’t very popular in the early 2000s. But I was fascinated by it.” At 14, Bhagat was finishing his studies to quickly go to a nearby playground to watch his students play in makeshift outdoor courts. “When everyone was watching TV at night, I would go watch badminton,” he said.
His dedication paid off as he quickly began training with them. “I had to wait a bit because I was a junior and had a disability, but once I started everyone was impressed with my progress,” he said. “I even became district champion. That’s how I decided to play it professionally.”
He was then introduced to his first trainer, SP Das, to whom he credits credit for shaping him as a professional para-athlete. “He was my first mentor. I used to play outdoors, when it was an indoor sport professionally. He was the one who helped me make that change and eventually become a international player. “
Bhagat, 33, the current world number 1, clinched a 21-11, 21-16 victory over Japan’s Fujihara in the first semi-final of the SL3 men’s singles, which lasted 36 minutes.
With only half of the land used in the SL3 classification, which is aimed at people with standing / lower limb impairments, Bhagat and Fujihara engaged in many long exchanges and the Indian came out on top most of the time. Seeded Bhagat trailed 2-4 early in the opener, but a series of aerial crashes helped him recover. The duo were 8-8 before the Indian entered the interval at 11-8.
After the break he continued his good run and finally pocketed the opener with six straight points. It was a spectacle of Bhagat in the second game as the Indian led all the way to win.
“It was a great game against Fujihara, he pushed me with great shots. But I had a plan and I executed it really well. I’m happy to have reached my first Paralympic final but the work didn’t is not over yet, ”Bhagat said after his match.
In the other semi-final of the SL3 men’s singles, Sarkar couldn’t find any rhythm against second-seeded Bethell, losing 8-21, 10-21.