It was a “moment to cherish” for Pramod Bhagat who on Saturday clinched India’s first badminton gold in Paralympics and he attributed his win against Great Britain’s Daniel Bethell in the finals to a strategy that he devised after losing to the same opponent in the past.
Reigning world champion Bhagat beat Bethell 21-14 21-17 in the summit clash. Another Indian, Manoj Kumar won the bronze after beating Daisuke Fujihara in the third-place playoff.
With badminton making its debut at the Paralympics this year, Bhagat, the current world No. 1, thus became the first Indian to win a gold medal in the sport.
“This is a very proud moment for me. I’m representing the Indian badminton community and India as a whole,” Bhagat said after winning the gold.
“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,” said 33-year-old from Odisha.
Bhagat, who had contracted polio when he was 4 years old, thus avenged his loss to Bethell at the Japan Para-Badminton International in November 2019.
“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.”
On his strategy, Bhagat said, “I just focused on playing the shuttle on each and every point rather than on winning the whole game. Every point was precious.”
Bhagat also remains in contention for a bronze medal in mixed doubles SL3-SU5 class. He and his partner Palak Kohli will square off against Japanese pair of Daisuke Fujihara and Akiko Sugino in the bronze medal playoff on Sunday.
They had lost the semifinals 3-21 15-21 to Indonesian combination of Hary Susanto and Leani Ratri Oktila earlier in the day.
Bhagat picked up the sports after watching his neighbours play. Initially, he competed against able-bodied players before getting into competitive para badminton in 2006.
He eventually emerged as one of the best para shuttlers in the country with 45 international medals under his belt, including four world championship gold medals and a gold and a bronze in 2018 Asian Para Games.
He also had started his career as a badminton coach but took a break in 2019 to focus on Tokyo Paralympics qualification.
In 2019, he received the Arjuna Award and Biju Patnaik Award for Excellence in Sports in India.