History only remembers the winners they say. But there are times when the second-best catches the world's eye, and one such instance was in display at the ongoing 2022 National Games on Saturday.
Fighting against all the odds, the two-time Olympian Soumyajit Ghosh bagged the silver medal in men's singles table tennis at the Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Indoor Stadium in Surat.
The 29-year-old, once considered to be the best paddler in India, slowly faded into obscurity almost 4 years back, thanks to some off-the-court controversies and a dip in performance.
"Of course, it was a very difficult time. But, I was surrounded by some brilliant people, who cared about me and helped me through it. If not for my coach, mentor, family, I do not think I would still be pushing myself to get back to the level I was playing at early on," said Soumyajit Ghosh in a conversation with The Bridge.
A day after Ghosh bagged the silver medal in men's singles playing for Haryana, the paddler revealed that he never expected to return with a medal in singles.
"Coming into the tournament, I never expected to win a medal let alone reach the final. As per the seedings, I was not even in the top 4. Even reaching the semifinal was a farfetched dream before the tournament began," revealed Ghosh.
But then luck played its part, as he puts it.
"No matter how good or bad you play, you need to have a bit of luck. And the lady luck shone brightly on me with Sharath, unfortunately, getting injured in our quarterfinal clash. This is definitely not the way anyone athlete wants to win a match, but you take it happily especially if it is someone like Sharath, who also has been in tremendous form in recent times," he added.
While the injury and subsequent withdrawal from Achanta Sharath Kamal opened up an easy route to the semifinals for Soumyajit, he knew there was still work to be done.
"Once I got that spot in the semifinals, I knew this was my opportunity. If I was to put my name back in the limelight, I had to cash in on this opportunity and make my way into the final," he explained.
And that is exactly what Soumyajit did. He schooled Manush Shah 8-11, 11-9, 12-10, 11-5, 11-9 in the semifinals to set up a title clash with Harmeet Desai.
Though the final against Desai did not go according to plan, Soumyajit managed to showcase that he still belongs.
"I have beaten all these guys in recent past. Be it Manav Thakkar, Manush Shah, Anthony Amalraj. Only Sathiyan is remaining now. These guys are the top players in India right now and the fact that I can defeat them, shows that I still have it in me," Ghosh chuckled.
He points out that making a return has not been easy with the pandemic and injuries.
"To be honest, I had to start from zero post-2018. I played a couple of tournaments in 2019, but it was not anything noteworthy. Then the pandemic hit and everything went haywire. I was injured too before playing a couple of WTT events late last year," he said.
"For the past one year, I have been playing at a decent level. I have not had any extraordinary performances, but I have not played badly either. It still am sixth or seventh in national rankings, which shows I never really left," Ghosh added.
Though it is a long time away, Soumyajit Ghosh has his eyes set on making it to the 2024 Paris Olympics.
"The long-term dream is to make it to the Paris Olympics and prove that I am still worthy. But, before that, I need to break into the top 4-5 in the country. This medal gives me the confidence that I am slowly reaching there. It will take time, but I will be there," a determined Ghosh signed off.