I knew I would perform under strain, I’m the greatest, says para shuttler Pramod Bhagat

Pramod Bhagat fairly likes his new nickname.

“Wherever I go, people are calling me the Golden Boy,” Bhagat stated in between his a number of felicitation ceremonies after coming back from the Tokyo Paralympics.

Winning gold medals at the elite degree shouldn’t be new for India’s most profitable para badminton participant. He has earned 5 of them at the World Championships, and one at the 2018 Asian Para Games. Yet, the nickname was earned solely his Paralympics gold final weekend.

“Whatever I have earned in the last 20 years—respect, medals, everything—is equal to this one Paralympic gold medal,” he stated.

The 33-year-old has needed to look forward to a big a part of these 20 years to even get an opportunity to achieve right here. Bhagat has been a aggressive para shuttler since 2005, however the sport was not part of the Paralympics until it made its debut in Tokyo.

“The Paralympics was my dream since 2012. It remained stuck in my heart and mind all these years even though I had to wait so long,” he stated.

Bhagat landed in Tokyo as the world No. 1 in his SL3 singles class (athletes with minor decrease limb impairment), with nothing lower than a gold medal anticipated from him. “I tend to do well only under pressure. So even with all those expectations on me at the Paralympics, I had the same confidence. I knew that I will shine under pressure, that I am the best,” he stated.

Bhagat’s mindset is in distinction to his character. He calls himself a “chill” particular person, sporting a smile at most occasions, having enjoyable on and off the court docket, not over-thinking about the recreation. Not even when he was 12-4 down in the second recreation of the remaining towards Britain’s Daniel Bethell earlier than he erased it and ultimately wrote historical past.

“That’s my nature; you will never find me in a serious mood. I firmly believe that the more you play the game freely, the more you live each and every moment of it, you will be able to deliver that much better. If you become nervous, or even overconfident, it can spoil your game,” he stated. “Even in the last match when I was down (at the mini-break), my thought wasn’t, “Oh, what should I do now?” My solely pondering was to maintain my cool, get pleasure from the recreation and provides it the greatest. I simply wished to return to the court docket and play. The opponent will handle the relaxation!” he added with chuckle.

This carefree perspective has been with since childhood. Infected with polio from the age of 5, Bhagat discovered his pleasure in sports activities rising up in a village in Odisha. Idolising Sachin Tendulkar, he picked up cricket and performed it for a lot of his boyhood earlier than switching to badminton. Competing with able-bodied athletes at the district degree, his para badminton wings took form when he met SP Das, his first coach who was himself a former worldwide para shuttler.

Bhagat marks that as one in all the two greatest turning factors of his career; the second being when Saina Nehwal received bronze at the 2012 London Olympics.

“It is because of Das sir that I became a professional para badminton athlete. And in 2012 when Saina won bronze, a badminton craze gripped the country. A year later, the BWF (badminton’s world governing body) took over para badminton, which gradually developed our sport and gave it a professional touch. These things played a key role in my career as well as creating the hype around para badminton, which in turn gave us the respect we thought we deserved,” Bhagat stated.

However, a lot earlier than the consciousness and assist for para badminton—and in flip for Bhagat—started to trickle in, he needed to exit of his method to preserve his sporting career on monitor. His father handed away in 2006, leaving him, his mom and 5 different siblings in monetary stress. It pressured Bhagat to take up a training position in a faculty in Bargarh, sacrificing his personal coaching hours to show youngsters the nuances of badminton for a number of years.

“You have to do something to feed your stomach and run your house, because playing sport alone doesn’t do that; at least in my case back then,” he stated.

But at no level did it derail Bhagat’s goals, that are at all times on the transfer.

“When I competed at the district level, I wanted to excel at the state level. From there my goal went to national success, then an international medal, then winning a World Championship medal, then an Asian Games medal. Then I thought, “if Lin Dan can be a five-time world champion, why can’t I?” My dreams are never complete. As soon as one is achieved, I move on to another one,” he stated.

The greatest amongst them was fulfilled in Tokyo, however even that won’t halt the cycle.

“No matter how much you achieve, human nature doesn’t want to stop. After a small break, I will get back on my journey of chasing another goal, which is the 2022 Asian Para Games,” he stated.

A couple of days in the past, one other one in all his goals was ticked off: meeting Tendulkar. “That’s a dream I had since childhood,” Bhagat stated of his encounter together with his idol. “When we met and spoke, he gave me so many instances where you can treat life and sports equally. He told me how to balance family and sports life, how you can manage both and how you can keep your concentration and confidence level up at this stage of the career. I believe his words will benefit me immensely,” Bhagat stated.

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