The Tokyo Paralympics saw the debut of Para Badminton, and India’s squad of 7 ace shuttlers certainly made an impact, clinching 4 medals, placing India in fourth place on the badminton medal table.
Pramod Bhagat and Krishna Nagar took the top spot in their categories, winning historic gold medals and writing their names in the books. Suhas Yathiraj and Manoj Sarkar also made their mark, clinching a silver and bronze respectively, after hard fought battles. Tarun Dhillon, Palak Kolhi and Parul Parmar also made the nation proud with their fantastic performances on the big stage.
Behind the scenes however, was India’s national coach Gaurav Khanna, who played a big role in the players success on the grand stage. For the last 15 years Khanna has dedicated his time and worked selflessly to train athletes with disabilities and hearing impairments.
Gaurav Khanna’s Journey to Becoming the National Coach of India
Picking up Badminton at an early age, Khanna won many state and national championships which also helped him start his career as a inspector in the Railway Protection Force (RPF). Unfortunately during a match in Udaipur, Khanna suffered from a serious knee injury. The damage was beyond salvageable and Gaurav had to give up playing the sport for his safety.
Gaurav did not leave the sport completely however, and was inspired by his mother to help people with disabilities. His mother, who came from humble beginnings, often had dedicated her life to help PwDs and persons with hearing impairment. Following in her footsteps, Khanna decided to train and help such athletes.
“During my training days, I practised along with hearing-impaired players as well as those with disabilities. However, their participation would be minimal since training happened quickly, and it would be hard for them to keep up. So, I decided to support them,” said Gaurav in an interview with Sportsmatik.
Khanna picked up a few hearing impaired players and began training them, teaching them the sport with patience. As a result, his students picked up the sport faster and delivered excellent results. Khanna faced his fair share of challenges as he tried to adjust to new teaching techniques.
Khanna learned sign language to help communicate with hearing impaired players. He had to teach strokes in a different way, and take into consideration various disabilities and how they impacted play. Nevertheless, Khanna continued to push forward and teach his students with zeal. Gaurav also ensured that the promising players received sponsorships from the government and other organisations.
Khanna’s students soon participated in the 2000 Deaf World Championships, and the following year, he was appointed as the coach for the Asian team in the Asia Europe Continental Deaf Championship.
In 2015 Gaurav Khanna was made the national coach for the Indian Para Badminton team. His students included Manoj Sarkar, Pramod Bhagat, Parul Parmar, IAS officer Suhas Yathiraj. The 2015 Para Badminton World championships were a major success for India, as the players walked away with 13 medals.
The Gaurav Khanna Excellia Badminton Academy
In December 2020, the coach opened up the Gaurav Khanna Excellia Badminton Academy in Lucknow, the very first academy for para players in the country. As the covid-19 pandemic hit and travelling became tough for athletes Khanna went a step further, and bought a piece of land near the academy on which he constructed an accommodation cum recovery centre.
Taking a massive loan of 1 crore, Gaurav Khanna made sure that all the necessities of the athletes were provided for. Apart from accommodation, the place also consists of a gym, steam bath, sauna bath, hydrotherapy, jacuzzi pool and massage centre which proved to be of great help for these athletes.
The Academy itself consists of four badminton courts including 2 mini wooden courts, keeping the various disabilities of the athletes in mind. Since the inauguration of the academy, several people have come forward to help Khanna in maintaining the academy including the SAI, whose TOPS scheme helped athletes train.
On 29th August 2020, Khanna received the Dronacharya Award for his contribution to the success of Para Badminton in India.