Dubai: India’s Paralympic badminton ace Pramod Bhagat has two main objectives heading into next year’s Tokyo Games. One is, of course to win a medal in his SL3 category, while the other is to meet his idol and hero, Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.
“A Paralympic medal will fulfil two of my dreams at the same time,” Bhagat said in an interview to the official Asian Paralympic Committee (APC).
“Tendulkar is my idol and he met the Olympic and Paralympic medallists of Rio 2016 and congratulated them. I hope I can meet him next year after the Tokyo 2020 Games with a Paralympic medal around my neck.”
Seen as a nightmare for many a sportsperson, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the 32-year-old Indian.
Bhagat, a world No. 1 and the reigning world champion in SL3 singles and doubles category, has been confined to his home in Bhubaneswar, in India’s eastern state of Odisha, for more than four months now. But he has no complaints. Instead he has used the downtime to attain better fitness and mental strength and is now raring to go all out for his dream of a Paralympic medal at Tokyo.
“I have made the most of this lockdown time to work on my fitness and strengthen my weaknesses. During our usual training time, we distributed our time on skills, technique, tactics and fitness. Now that our training has been halted, I had ample time to focus on fitness and mental well-being. I am more than satisfied with the outcome of these four months of workout at home,” he said.
“I have never felt so good about my body. I am fitter than ever before and have gained strength in my left (disabled) leg and strengthened my core. I am able to move the leg more comfortably, which is a great satisfaction. Mentally, I feel very confident about my movements now,” said the Arjuna Awardee, who is at the top of the Tokyo qualifying list in men’s singles SL3 category.
“COVID-19 is a big challenge for the world now. For me, however, this lost time has helped me work on my biggest challenge — the movement in my disabled leg,” said the left-handed shuttler who was affected by polio in his left leg in his childhood.
The 32-year-old is seen as one of India’s brightest prospects of winning a gold at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. No doubt, he was pained at the postponement of the Games, and it was a matter of time when he turned things around in his favour while embarking on his fitness training again.
“Initially I was a bit depressed with the way things were turning out. I have waited and trained all these years to participate at a Paralympic Games. First, we had hopes at Rio 2016 and now when Para Badminton is making its debut in Tokyo 2020, the Olympics got postponed. It was frustrating at first, but then staying positive and training was the minimum I could do to keep myself going,” he said.
“I kept telling myself that I have to stay fit be ready for the Games, even though I may have to wait for another five years. The postponement of the Games has definitely taken our mind and body back to a relaxed mode, so the challenge is even more now while staying active and maintaining fitness levels all the time,” the five-time World Champion added.
Bhagat had a grand 2019 following his gold at the World Para Badminton Championships, where he fought back from a game down to defeat Daniel Bethell and clinch his third title in the men’s singles SL3 category. He got the 2020 season off to a grand start while winning gold at the two international events in Brazil and Peru earlier this year. And now following a lull in training due to the pandemic, Bhagat has once again started training at the Railway Indoor Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
Bhagat perceives Bethell of England as among the biggest threats for an Olympic gold in Tokyo next year. “He will have the psychological advantage having won the test event in Tokyo. But, no excuses I need to be prepared to tackle him this time,” Bhagat said.