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Asian Games

Stoic HS Prannoy pulls through with broken body to a bronze 'worth its weight in gold'

A heavily strapped right thigh, a back propped up with a brace, and legs which refused to move because of no training sessions in 10 days - HS Prannoy battled through all this and a heavily partisan Chinese crowd to win India a first badminton men's singles medal in 41 years.

Stoic HS Prannoy pulls through with broken body to a bronze worth its weight in gold
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HS Prannoy in action (AGNS)

By

Dipankar Lahiri

Updated: 6 Oct 2023 8:54 AM GMT

Hangzhou: HS Prannoy threw away the brace supporting his back after it fell off midway during a point - drawing gasps from the partisan Chinese crowd - during his Asian Games semifinal against home favourite Li Shi Feng at the Binjiang Gymnasium on Friday, but he could not discard the pain he has been carrying for the last two weeks.

He had to take an unscheduled water break despite the chair umpire's reluctance to let him, he banged his racquet on his head in frustration, but there was no way past the rigorous physical examination. In the end, he went down 16-21, 9-21 to bow out with a bronze medal, becoming the first Indian men’s singles shuttler to win an Asian Games medal in 41 years. Syed Modi had previously won a bronze medal in the 1982 Asian Games.

"The 41-year gap shows how tough singles badminton is at the Asian Games. Nine out of the top ten badminton players in the world are from Asia. To win a medal here is up there with my World Championships bronze," Prannoy, broken but not defeated, said moments after being knocked out in the semifinals.

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"This has been one of the toughest weeks for me in the last two-three years. I have never played a tournament through such pain. It was really important for the team to get this big medal. All I know about the back injury is that this is a recurring one, we just pushed through it at the Asian Games. I have not had a single training session in the last 10 days, was trying to make sure I have the energy and my back can take the load for just one actual match at a time," the world number 7 added.

Thanking the Indian support staff for doing just about enough to stitch him back together to get back on the court after a draining quarterfinal less than 24 hours ago, he said, "Today was tougher on the back than yesterday. You have to bring out your experience into play (when playing with a broken body), you have to pull out matches even when playing at 50%. Our schedule is insanely tight, there is a mad amount of travel and competitions, there is no time to look after niggles."

Why Prannoy was forced to play the men's team semis

Indian coach Pullela Gopichand said Prannoy's bronze medal is worth its weight in gold because of the tremendous fightback that has gone into the campaign, including having to play in the men's team event despite not being physically up to it.

"Prannoy had this injury in training before coming to the Asian Games. We wanted him to play in the semifinals of the team event because we had lost our buffer - the men's doubles match. It was critical that Prannoy played for us there," Gopichand said about Prannoy's dual involvement in the team and individual events.

"His back got worse after that, but it was his legs which went completely, because he has not been training. Had Prannoy managed to play today's match with fitter legs, a pain-free back, things would have been very different," he said.

"Li Shi Feng was phenomenal today, made absolutely no mistakes. Every shot was literally on the baseline. Prannoy did not get anything easy today. But this is a big event, a once-in-a-lifetime chance, we would have pushed everything to play here. There is no shame in the way he lost," the coach added.

Gave away entire match due to frustration: Prannoy

Prannoy led the semifinal for much of the first game, despite the vociferous applause every time his opponent scored a point and the murmurs every time he scored one. But he said he had a lapse of concentration at 14-14 after he got angry with himself for not being able to execute his strategy.

"I had my chances, but I probably gave away the entire match there. Because I got frustrated, I gave away another 2-3 points there, and I could not find a way back from there," Prannoy said.

Despite the close margin of the first game, the second game saw the Chinese pull away to a big lead. As Li Shi Feng alternatively drew him closer to the net and sent him hurtling back to the baseline, the worn-out Prannoy was frequently beaten by net smashes and flat exchanges.

As he would confirm later, his back just could not take the gymnastics his opponent was forcing him through.

Prannoy said the partisan crowd has been good to see because it is not everywhere that badminton halls are packed with supporters, adding that home crowds do give an edge in crunch situations, like the 14-14 stage in the first game where Prannoy let go of the steering and the Chinese took over.

Would have broken Prannoy's heart had he lost the quarterfinal: Gopichand

The unseen aura that hung over Prannoy's semifinal was the insane effort he had put into his quarterfinal win against Lee Zi Jia. Speaking about the emotional moment he shared with coach Gopichand at the end of Thursday's victory, Prannoy said all the raw emotions came out because the entire Indian team was aware of how he was pulling through despite not being in good shape.

"The entire team knows how hard we have worked in the last year and a half. All we were thinking is that we had to keep pushing on. Playing Lee Zi Jia was physically draining. Yesterday's match felt like it was not meant for me at times, to be walking away with a medal is a relief," Prannoy said.

Gopichand, who had an unusual show of emotions on the sidelines of the court after the quarterfinal win, said the entire team would have been devastated had Prannoy not been able to get into the podium spots.

"It was a roller coaster match yesterday. Prannoy fought really fought hard, it would have broken his heart had he lost that. In my opinion, Prannoy's bronze is worth its weight in gold," the coach said.

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