Trailing 4-11 against Great Britain’s Daniel Bathell in the second game of the Men’s Singles SL3 final, the only thing going through Indian badminton player Pramod Bhagat’s mind was not to allow the match to go into the third and decider game.
“I kept telling me that ‘you can still make a comeback’, ‘you can still win it’, ‘you can still make a turnaround, and my coach (Gaurav Khanna) kept telling me ‘it’s going to turn around, it’s going to happen soon’. His egging and encouragement helped me maintain my composure.
“I played very cautiously, weighed each shot, and kept executing my plan. I did not allow the pressure to get to me, did not allow my emotions to get the better of me. I kept pushing myself and that helped me win the game and the match," Bhagat added.
His improved fitness too was an important factor as Bhagat played three matches on Saturday — the men’s singles semifinal, mixed doubles semifinal, and the men’s singles final and managed to produce his best in all.
“My coach kept telling me that my fitness is an issue. So I worked on it in the last year and that was very helpful as I managed to produce my best in all three matches today," said Bhagat.
And once he managed the comeback and won the gold medal, Bhagat, the 33-year-old from Bihar let off the steam as he jumped into the arms of his coach Gaurav Khanna, the chief coach of the Indian team, and just let his tears flow.
“It is not a small achievement to win a medal in the Olympics or Paralympics. It was a very emotional moment. Winning a Paralympics medal was my dream and I managed it. I could not say anything and just hugged him. We have been like a family for many years. He is like my elder brother and guide, we have spent so much time together. I just hugged him and enjoyed the moment," said Bhagat of his celebration after winning the final point.
Bhagat said he had encountered a lot of troubles in the last few years. He had decided to leave his job as a coach when he was transferred out of state where he could not practice. The pandemic too played havoc with his preparations but Bhagat kept calm and kept working at his game.
“There were a lot of issues. We regularly had seminars and video chats during the pandemic to keep ourselves abreast of things, sharing programmes and working out plans to maintain ourselves to restart the game as soon as things became normal," said Bhagat.
Manoj Sarkar, who won a bronze medal in the SL3 category by beating Japan’s Fujihara Daisuke in the playoff, said he went out aggressively as he did not want to allow the pressure of playing the home star get to him.
“When this match began, my target was to win the first game match at any cost. Because there are three conditions: you are playing in Japan and against a player from Japan meant more pressure. The third thing which was positive for me was that I had already beaten the Japanese player many times. But then I took lead and eventually won the game. For the second game, I didn’t want him to come back, I wanted to allow him even fewer points than the first, and I managed to do that," said Manoj.
I have been playing for a long time in para-badminton. But taking part in at Paralympics and winning a medal for India, all the credit goes to my guru Gaurav (Khanna) sir. There are people engaged in para-badminton all over the country but to get players from Odisha, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand and collecting them into a team, all credit for that goes to Gaurav sir.
“He takes care of everything — from training to taking care of us and overseeing all things, I want to thank my sir who always believed in us. Before the second set, he came to me and said “beat him with a bigger margin" and I did just that," added Manoj.
He had contracted polio at age one which affected his right leg. Due to improper medical treatment, he then developed a post-polio residual paralysis [PPRP] lower limb condition.