(September 7, 2021) Some moments in life are priceless, and the one that had Pramod Bhagat hugging his coach after winning the first-ever gold for India in para-badminton at the Tokyo Paralympics was picture perfect. Who could have thought that a polio-stricken boy from Odisha would one day create history? But Bhagat was determined to change his destiny from a young age. Coming from a humble background with no means to support himself or the game, Bhagat changed the course of his life by picking up a racquet in his teens. And it was this very love for badminton that made him a world-class sportsperson.
And after years of perseverance and hard work, Bhagat scripted history when he beat Great Britain’s Daniel Bethell 2-0 in the Men’s Singles final to clinch a gold in his Paralympics debut, thus making him the first Indian to achieve this feat.
While the world is cheering for this 33-year-old, his journey has been filled with challenges.
Cricket dreams shattered by polio
Born in the nondescript village of Attabari in Odisha to a rice mill worker father and a homemaker mother, Bhagat was passionate about cricket as a kid, and spent most of his early days playing his favorite sport in his backyard. However, things took a wrong turn when Bhagat contracted polio at the age of five. This did not deter the youngster from chasing his dream of making it big in the world of sports. Though cricket was out of question for Bhagat, he found his true calling in badminton. It was at the age of 14 that Bhagat went to watch a badminton match and was completely fascinated by it. He instantly knew that this was the sport that he wanted to pursue as it didn’t require much running and his hands were enough to hit the target. He soon began training for it under his coach SP Das.
While Bhagat was ready to show his skill on the court, his fellow able-bodied players were initially hesitant to include him in the game. For almost a year, he had to wait for his turn sitting outside the court. The wait was long but Bhagat managed to impress them with his potential, and soon found his way into the team. His first tournament against normal category invited the cheers of spectator, and this motivated him to pursue the game professionally.
Picked himself up and the racquet
Soon Bhagat found himself competing at the national level. In his first outing, he clinched a gold, and soon moved up the ladder to his international inning. After securing a gold and a silver in singles and doubles at Asian Para Olympics 2009, he went onto win accolades in IBAD Seven Luck World Championship in 2009. The next year, he made his debut at the Para Asian Games, however, Bhagat couldn’t go past the first round which affected his confidence. “I was a beginner and unaware of the tactics of the game, I lost the match that dragged my morale and enthusiasm,” he told Sportsmatik.
The setback somehow motivated Bhagat to perform even better and in the 2014 Asian Para Games, he won a bronze. The Arjuna Award winner, however, was still looking for that window of opportunity that could catapult him into the league of the best in Paralympic. The same knocked on his door in 2018 at Asian Para Games when Bhagat made the country proud by winning a gold in Men’s singles. “I did in-depth research about the game tactics, watched my previous videos, estimated my errors and toiled hard for respective improvements. When I entered the court, I was a bit nervous, yet confident that I would perform better this time and make my nation proud with my performance. I eventually did so by clinching the gold medal, defeating the same opponent with whom I had a fierce clash in 2014,” he added.
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Shuttler on a blitzkrieg
2019 brought with it a plethora of chances to make it big and Bhagat ended up translating each of them into a medal. If the 33-year-old won a gold at singles and doubles in Sharjah, he made the country proud at Basel 2019 too with two gold medals.
But like every other player, Bhagat, too, had his eyes on the Paralympics. However, for the longest time, badminton didn’t find its place in the sporting spectacle. But 2020 Tokyo Paralympics brought with it a welcome surprise when para-badminton was added to the long list of sporting events. And Bhagat knew that he had finally found that perfect chance to make his country proud.
Its a big day for Indian Sports tomorrow & I would want all of us to come together.When I picked up the racquet in my teenage it was my dream to be playing at this level & serving the nation in my best of limits. My aim is to make India the badminton hub. I hope & pray I succeed. pic.twitter.com/2STS55mrFU
— Pramod Bhagat (@PramodBhagat83) September 3, 2021
He did exactly that when he scripted history by becoming the first Indian ever to win a badminton gold at the Paralympics. The four-time world champion defeated Great Britain’s Daniel Bethell to clinch India’s first gold at para-badminton. Talking about his historic victory at the Paralympics, Bhagat told PTI, “this is the first time that para badminton is appearing in the Paralympics and winning the first gold medal for India is a moment to cherish for me. I played the same opponent in Japan two years ago and I lost. That was a learning opportunity for me. Today it was the same stadium and the same environment, and I devised a strategy to win. I was very determined.”
Bhagat, who overcame obstacles and polio, to win a historic gold at Paralympics is a success story that anything is possible if you stick to your dreams and goals.