India at Olympics: Badminton - A look at the history of the sport
Boasting of medals of every hue except yellow, Indian shuttlers have been a constant presence at the Olympics ever since its introduction at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Enjoying mass popularity for the last two decades, badminton in India has achieved cult status in the nation. The fastest racquet sport in the world, badminton rose to prominence with top shuttlers like Pullela Gopichand, Aparna Popat, Jwala Gutta, and eventually, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, and Kidambi Srikanth paving the way for glory.
India has always sent shuttlers to represent the nation in every edition of the Olympics ever since badminton was inducted into the quadrennial Games at Barcelona in 1992. Occupying the ninth spot on the Olympic medal table, India boasts of medals of every hue except yellow collected from the prestigious Games. While Saina Nehwal became the first Indian woman to win a medal for India in badminton when she bagged the bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, PV Sindhu improved on this result by bringing home a silver medal from the 2016 Rio Games.
With the Tokyo Olympics around the corner, PV Sindhu, ranked World No. 7 and B. Sai Praneeth, ranked World No. 15 is ready to spearhead India's hopes for a third Olympic medal. Also accompanying them will be the dynamic doubles World No. 10 duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty. Before Indian shuttlers open their campaign in Tokyo, let's take a look at the history of Indian badminton at the Olympic Games.
The origin story of badminton
Interestingly, India has played an instrumental role in the growth of badminton as the sport we see and know today. Several historical records have cited the presence of games involving shuttle-cocks that were played in ancient India, China and Greece. In the European continent, a game called battledore and shuttlecock was popular with children during the Medieval period.
However, it was only with Britain's colonisation of India that badminton came into the limelight truly. Originally played as a garden sport at leisure, the Britishers brought in the gambit of adding rules to the game as early as 1867. Picking up the basics from the Indians, the British colonists carried the sport home to England which came into the notice of the erstwhile Duke of Beaufort who took an immediate liking towards it. In fact, it was Beaufort who christened the sport as badminton when he exhibited it at a lawn party in 1873 in front of guests, at Gloucestershire.
Soon enough, the Badminton Association of England (BAE) came into being and six years later, India followed suit by formalizing their governing body, the Badminton Association of India (BAI) in 1899.
Badminton entered the pages of the Olympics in 1972 when at the Munich Games, the sport was included as a demonstration sport. However, it was only at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that badminton got officially inducted into the Games and has been a part of the quadrennial event ever since. Dominated by the Asians ever since its inception, most of the shots in badminton are called by the powerhouse nations of China, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan and of late, India.
Pioneers of badminton in India
Badminton in India has been synonymous with the Father of Badminton - Prakash Padukone, for the longest time. Responsible for being the first Indian player to win the big titles and reach the World No. 1 ranking, Padukone bagged the prestigious All England Championship in 1980. Padukone has also been a Commonwealth Games gold medal winner, picking up the honour in 1978. Despite being one of the best, Padukone could never compete in the Olympics as it wasn't until 1992 that the sport got included in the mix.
Following Padukone, it was the turn of Pullela Gopichand to shake things up on the world stage. Tutored by the legendary Padukone himself, Gopichand soared and also bagged the All England trophy in 2001, like his mentor. It is actually Pullela Gopichand who is really responsible for the growth of badminton in India as he has dedicated himself to the shaping of badminton players by being their coach. To credit his excellence in this department, Gopichand has the 2012 London Olympics bronze medalist Saina Nehwal and the 2016 Rio Olympics silver medalist PV Sindhu as his star pupils.
Currently, badminton enjoys quite the status of popularity among the Indians. Aside from Nehwal and then Sindhu, players like former World No. 1 Kidambi Srikanth, B. Sai Praneeth, Jwala Gutta, V Diju, Aparna Popat, Ashwini Ponnappa-N Sikki Reddy, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty, Lakshya Sen have all changed the landscape of badminton in India.
India's glittering performance at the Olympics
At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where badminton made its debut, India was represented by Deepankar Bhattacharya and U Vimal Kumar. In the women's singles, 8-time National Champion Madhumita Bisht became the first Indian female shuttler to represent India at the Barcelona Games. Bhattacharya, a 2-time Olympian made it till the pre-quarters in Barcelona before succumbing to a defeat at the hands of China's Zhao Jianhua, 15-4, 15-12. Meanwhile, Kumar has served as the Chief National Coach of India and is currently coaching the husband-wife duo of Saina Nehwal and Parupalli Kashyap at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy.
There has been no looking back after 1992 as the Indian shuttlers have always contested at the Olympics in every edition where badminton has featured. At the 2000 Sydney Games, Pullela Gopichand also took part but couldn't make it past the third round. 9-time National Champion Aparna Popat also represented India twice at the Olympics - making her debut in 2000, she followed it with an appearance at the 2004 Athens Games. Moreover, India's time to shine came in the doubles as well with Jwala Gutta pairing up with V Diju, Ashwini Ponnappa at the 2012 London Olympics.
The year 2012 would come to take monumental importance in the history of badminton in India. Having made the quarter-finals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Saina Nehwal was determined to clinch a medal in London. After playing a thriller against Denmark's Tine Baun in the quarters at London, Nehwal dashed into the semi-finals of the Games to go up against China's Wang Yihan. Although Nehwal lost the match to Yihan, 21-13, 21-13, she granted herself a chance at bronze by setting a date with Wang Xin of China. In this tense bronze medal clash, Xin had gone off to a flying start before she hurt her knee and was forced to give a walkover, handing Nehwal the country's first Olympic medal in badminton!
When PV Sindhu made her Olympic debut in 2016 at Rio, there were a lot of expectations pinned on her as well. In incredible form, the then World No. 5 player, Sindhu scripted a sensational story of success at the Olympics. Braving past some of the best shuttlers in the business - Michelle Li, Wang Yihan, Tai Tzu Ying and eventually Nozomi Okuhara, Sindhu set up a mouth-watering gold medal clash against arch-rival Carolina Marin. What followed next was history - as both players fought tooth and nail for over 1 hour 23 minutes before Marin was crowned champion and Sindhu created history by winning a maiden silver medal at the Olympics for badminton in India.