Tears and an Olympic heartbreak: Satwik-Chirag recall Tokyo tragedy
Newly crowned India Open champs and World No. 8 badminton pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty recalled their fateful exit from the Olympics.
It still feels like yesterday when the whole of India woke up early in the morning to see India's star men's doubles badminton duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty take on the English pair of Ben Lane and Sean Vendy in their final group stage match at the Tokyo Olympics last July.
What followed in the minutes before Satwik-Chirag could step on the court for the match is still a little heart-breaking to recall - the then World No. 10 doubles pair found out that the match they were going for would be inconsequential, owing mostly to the work of sheer bad luck.
After winning rousingly at the BWF 500 India Open last week in New Delhi by defeating 3-time World Champion pair of Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan, Satwik-Chirag was present on a Twitter Spaces interaction with PBL India, discussing myriad topics and on that occasion, they jogged their memory back to that fateful Tokyo day.
"I needed at least 2-3 weeks to get over that Olympic heartbreak. Just before we entered the court we got to know that we are out of the tournament because Lee/Wang went on to defeat Kevin and Gideon," Chirag Shetty mentioned, when asked how long it took them to digest the really gutting loss.
In their debut match at the Tokyo Olympics, Satwik-Chirag, who went in as dark horses of the tournament, really pulled off a surprise by defeating the eventual gold medallist duo of Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin, ensuring that they were well-placed in the group rankings.
However, they lost to the Minions - Kevin Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon in their second group stage match after Chirag also briefly hurt his toe during the encounter.
With that loss, things became tricky for the Indian pair but they would have earned a spot to go into the knockouts if only the Minions managed to win their match against Lee/Wang - which was also expected, but in a shock turn of events, the Minions lost.
"The moment we were entering for our third and final group stage match, we knew that we were out..we were quite unhappy entering it, but even then we held our ground and decided to finish our first Olympics on a high note," Chirag mentioned, his voice slightly pensive.
"The moment we came out after the match, Mathias (Boe) was waiting for us and he was about to tell us how we played the game and he just burst into tears and the moment I saw him, I had tears in my eyes, I couldn't really hold myself back and he kept weeping..and I knew how much effort went into the Olympic Games," the World No. 8 doubles player remembered.
Denmark's Mathias Boe, who was acting as the coach of Satwik-Chirag during the Olympics period, had played a huge role in changing the way the duo played and is largely responsible for them putting on such an impressive performance at Tokyo, no matter the ill luck.
Continuing on that note, Shetty went on, "I kind of got a flashback then of how much training we did and what all sacrifices we did before the Olympics because the situation back then was not really good. There were a lot of cases going on, people were dying, we weren't in the right mindset, even then we kept training," the 24-year-old shuttler from Mumbai recalled. In fact, Chirag had lost his maternal grandfather to the COVID-19 virus in April of that year as well, making it a particularly difficult time for him to cope with the grief.
At the Olympics, Satwik-Chirag was placed in the toughest draw - the Group of Death with all the formidable pairs in the mix, and yet they won two out of their three matches and was on the verge of qualifying for the knock-outs, if not for the Minions losing suddenly to Lee/Wang.
"It was really tough to get back from that loss but after 2-3 weeks we kind of got back and we told ourselves, there will always be a next time. As I look back, the process was good but it was quite unfortunate...but there's always a next time," Chirag elaborated, a tinge of resolution in his voice. Perhaps Paris 2024 it is when Satwik-Chirag can finally re-write this story.