It was a hair-raising match that concluded with a superman pose.
Pramod Bhagat was well aware of the fact that his opponent Daniel Bethell of Great Britain had defeated him previously in the same court amid the same weather conditions.
The 33-year-old para player was drifting by eight points in the finals of the Tokyo paralympic badminton match in the first half and yet there was a sense of calmness that engulfed him.
He tackled every attack with ease and focussed on one point at a time. By the second half, he leaped ahead swiftly.
With a difference of four points (21-17), Pramod became an undisputed number one world champion in his maiden Paralympic appearance.
Leaving his racket on the floor, Pramod sprinted to his coach and hugged him tight. The heartwarming video seamlessly captured his years of hard work, belief and resilience to achieve this feat.
High spirits and emotions flowed onto the podium where he posed like superman to collect the gold medal.
Watching the impeccable performance of the left-handed para-shuttler, it would be hard to imagine him running a small electric appliances store in his village.
“My family put a lot of emphasis on studies while growing up. Initially, due to my condition and our finances they were concerned about my future in sports, especially badminton, as it was not exactly a lucrative career back in the ’90s. Even after I won some district level tournaments, they didn’t take me seriously so I even ignored my potential and focussed on completing my education. Things changed in 2006 when I got a chance to go to Malaysia, Pramod, who hails from Attabira in Odisha’s Bargarh district, tells The Better India.
Pramod is presently ranked world number one in para-badminton for men’s singles and doubles. An Arjuna Awardee, he has five gold, silver and bronze medals in international tournaments including BWF Para-Badminton World Championships (2017), Asian Games in Jakarta (2018) and IWAS World Games (2019)
‘Badminton Was Not My First Love
Pramod’s first love was cricket while growing up. But it had a lot of running across wide lawns, something that Pramod’s left leg did not allow. The movement restriction often held him back when his friends formed teams.
Sitting at home was not an option as his parents encouraged him to play outdoor sports, so he shifted his attention to badminton. The sport was more about gaining control over hand movements and the shuttlecock.
“For almost a year, I observed my seniors play and learned everything about the game. Not sure if my seniors were fed up or they took pity on me, but I finally got a chance to play. Playing badminton in the open but with limited ground space became an integral part of my routine,” recalls Pramod.
Playing outdoors proved beneficial when he started participating in local tournaments, which took place indoors.
“Due to the wind, a player has to work double hard to control the shuttlecock and move quickly. Now that I knew how to use my left leg to quickly make the moves, the indoors did not seem challenging. Here I had to use my mind a lot to predict the moves, observe footwork and the power of shots,” he adds.
From 2002 to 2013, Pramod went on to play several inter-district and inter-state matches.
In 2005, he clinched his first gold medal at the national level and a year later he made his international debut in the final edition of the FESCPIC Games in Kuala Lumpur. In 2009, he won his first international match in South Korea.
This period was the toughest for Pramod with loss of his father, pressure to earn and finding time to remain connected to badminton. So he took up coaching and opened a store to support the family.
He coached the para players in Nagpur, Bargarh and Sambalpur for four years and later quit to prepare for Tokyo Paralympics.
“By the time I decided to compete in Tokyo, I had won enough medals to get financial and infrastructural support from the state and central government. It has been a very long journey for me and on the way I have learnt many lessons, the most important being to never stop trying,” says Pramod.
‘When I Met My Idol…’
Even though Pramod took every precaution, he was infected with COVID-19 in early 2020. He used the time off to adjust to the new prosthetic adjuncts, as his left ankle was starting to bend outwards.
For hours he would work towards balancing and mobility. After his recovery, he practiced on court for more hours than usual to make his shots more powerful and swift.
“A couple of months before Tokyo [Paralympics] I was extremely careful and kept myself isolated for most part of the day. I wanted to get a gold medal and I was even confident of getting it, if I put in all my energy and efforts. I only thought about winning the medal and that positive attitude kept me mentally fit throughout,” says Pramod, who was selected to compete in the SL3 (Standing/lower limb impairment/minor) category.
Since his historic win, Pramod has been flooded with congratulatory messages, invitations and a sea of visitors at his home in Attabira.
From Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, everyone has celebrated Pramod’s victory.
However, the highlight, according to Pramod, was meeting his idol Sachin Tendulkar.
“I had told myself that I will meet Sachin only after I get a gold and my dream came true. When he came to know about my wish, he immediately agreed. Our meeting was unforgettable. I gifted him my racket and in turn he gave me his jersey he played with during his 200th Test match. He then gave me valuable advice on striking a balance between my personal and professional life. It is no surprise that he is an inspiration to millions out there. He is one of the reasons I am in sports,” says Pramod.
मुझे भी आपसे मिलकर बहुत खुशी हुई प्रमोद और आपके बचपन के बारे में जानकर बहुत अच्छा लगा।
आपने जो देश के लिए किया है वह बहुत बड़ी सफलता है।
आप भारत ही नहीं, पूरी दुनिया के लिए प्रेरणा के स्रोत हैं।
ऐसे ही 🇮🇳 का नाम ऊंचा करते रहो! 😃🏸 https://t.co/mVYWWjCxAq
— Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) September 9, 2021
The thought of a child affected by Polio winning a gold for India in sports and being in the same room as Sachin Tendulkar, would have seemed bizarre to a young Pramod.
But amidst people’s disbelief, inadequate means to pursue badminton as a career and the pressure to earn a decent livelihood, he made his mark with more than a hundred national and international medals.
Edited by Yoshita Rao