When Abhinav Manota left India seven years ago to pursue a management degree in Christchurch, New Zealand, everyone thought that the Punjab singles champion of 2012 was turning his back on badminton. However, the 29-year-old has now booked his berth for the Tokyo Olympics last week and is now set to travel to Tokyo as the only badminton player to have qualified from New Zealand.
The world number 91 has made it to the Olympics on the Oceania quota. He has qualified as the 35th player in the draw of 38 singles players. With the Badminton World Federation and the International Olympic Committee supporting the weight behind representation in badminton from countries beyond Asia, Manota has qualified for the Olympics ahead of players like Kidambi Srikanth, who have many more ranking points.
Manota’s father Lovleen Kumar, himself a former India shuttler, told The Indian Express, “To see Abhinav compete at the Tokyo Olympics will be the biggest thing to have happened for our family. Even when he had planned to move to New Zealand, we knew that he could not leave badminton behind."
Despite having won the Punjab senior state championships in 2012, Manota suffered a disappointing run in Indian badminton. He conceded a second-round defeat at the Nationals, a first-round defeat at the Syed Modi Grand Prix the same year and a loss in the qualifiers of the TATA Open the following year.
Following his move to New Zealand, Manota’s luck turned when he met New Zealand doubles player Dylan Soedjasa during a badminton training session, after which he decided to compete on the country’s circuit seriously.
While four Indian badminton players — PV Sindhu, Sai Praneeth and the men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty -have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, a fifth Indian -Manota — will also be competing at the Games, albeit under a different flag.
Badminton events at the Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to take place between July 24 and August 2 this year.