Following a long wait, para badminton will be making its debut at the Tokyo Paralympics. Over the last decade, Indian shuttles have brought numerous laurels to the nation and Indian para-shuttlers head to Tokyo with an aim to match their Olympic counterparts on debut. India has representation in four of the six categories available for participation.
The seven-membered Indian para badminton contingent has the experience and the talent to return with multiple medals. The team, which is a perfect balance of youth and experience, boasts of numerous World Championship and Asian Games medallists. Coach Gaurav Khanna is confident of returning with multiple medals and the nation will be hoping his words come true.
Given the world champions the team boasts of and with Dhronacharya awardee Gaurav guiding them at every step, it wouldn’t be unfair to keep our expectations high from this contingent of para shuttlers heading to Tokyo. As the Paralympic Games kick off, let us take a look at the hardships and challenges our para shuttlers had to overcome to reach the pinnacle of the sport.
Indian para badminton contingent
World no.1 Pramod Bhagat is India’s brightest medal hope at the Tokyo Games. Bhagat developed a defect in his leg at the tender age of five. Seven years down the lane, the ordinary boy from Odisha witnessed a game of badminton and was fascinated by the game which hooked him to the sport.
Despite his disability, he put two years into learning the nuances of badminton and at the age of 15 began his journey as a shuttler. Early on, he played tournaments in the non-para categories and it was the challenges and the encouragement of those around him that motivated him to continue. Today, he is the best in the business with as many as 10 gold medals to his name.
Former World no.1 Manoj Sarkar will be joining Bhagat in the SL3 category. Sarkar, like Bhagat, had to deal with difficulties from a tender age. The ace para shuttler suffers from a PPRP lower limb condition which arose due to botched medical treatment at the age of 1. While Sarkar loved badminton, he took up playing it to beat his elder siblings and the rest is history.
A gold medal in men’s doubles at World Championship put Sarkar in the international spotlight. The Arjuna awardee didn’t stop at medals in doubles events as he started to assert his dominance in singles events. Sarkar, who is in Tokyo chasing a Paralympic medal, has as many as 42 international medals including 15 gold medals to his name.
Like a majority of youngsters in India, Tarun Dhillon grew up dreaming of becoming a cricketer. But an accident at the age of 10 crushed his hopes of yielding a bat and paved his path to a new possibility, that of badminton. Lack of proper and immediate medical attention saw a cut stunt his normal growth leading to deformity of his right leg and locking of the knee.
It was only a year later he discovered badminton and embarked on a journey to greatness. The two-times world champion returns from a knee injury at Tokyo and will be looking to add yet another feather to his cap. The last couple of years have been tough for the 27-year-old, which included him aggravating his ligament injury, but the ace shuttler hails it as a learning curve as he guns for gold on his Paralympic debut.
Suhas L. Yathiraj
From being a respected bureaucrat to representing the nation at the Paralympics, Suhas L. Yathiraj‘s journey is nothing but inspiring. Yathiraj loved challenges from his early days and his never give up attitude saw him become India’s first specially-abled IAS officer. Having achieved his dream in his professional life, the 38-year-old put his mind and heart to badminton.
In 2016, he became the first bureaucrat to represent India in a sport internationally and it was that year he bagged his maiden international medal, a gold medal at Asian Championships. With over 15 medals under his belt, Suhas now aims to add an Olympic medal and he will be putting his best foot forward at Tokyo to fulfil the dream.
At the age of two, Krishna Nagar was diagnosed with dwarfism. It was only in 2017 that Krishna took up badminton as a hobby. On learning about para badminton as a sport, the 22-year-old started competing professionally. I just four years of playing the sport, Krishna is ranked second in the world in his category.
He has won 2 medals at the 2019 BWF Para-Badminton World Championships thus far. Nagar took the bronze medal in the men’s single SS-6 category, while he took silver with his partner Raja Magotra in the doubles SS 6 category. The ace shuttler will be heading into the Tokyo Paralympics with his eyes set on the elusive gold medal.
At the age of 48, Parul Parmar will be making her Paralympics debut. The veteran shuttler will be featuring in both women’s singles and doubles events. Parmar is yet another polio patient who instead of cursing the virus, took her disability in the stride to win the world with a racquet in her hand.
Her interest in the sport came from accompanying her father, a state-level shuttler, to a local badminton club. Parul first hogged the spotlight with a bronze in singles at the 2010 Asian Para Games and never looked back. The Arjuna awardee who boasts medals in almost every international tournament eyes a Paralympic medal, the only one that is missing from her cabinet.
The youngest member of the team, Palak Kohli is a strong contender for finishing on the podium. The 19-year-old will be in action in both men’s and women’s doubles events with two veterans, Palak and Pramod. The teenager is the personification of determination and perseverance and will be looking to make a mark early in her career at the Paralympics.
Kohli stunned the nation with three gold medals in her debut national event and hasn’t looked back ever since. With four international medals in her nascent career, the ace para shuttler has already made a place for herself among the very best. And what better stage than the Paralympics to step up.