"Khel Ratna is like icing on the cake" — Paralympic gold medallist Pramod Bhagat
Bhagat was one of the 11 athletes who were nominated for the country's highest sporting honour by the selection committee
World number one para shuttler Pramod Bhagat says he won't rest on his past laurels and continue to strive hard for more success on the international circuit after being recommended for the prestigious Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award.
The 33-year-old Bhagat was one of the 11 athletes who were nominated for the country's highest sporting honour by the selection committee after his gold-medal-winning feat in the SL3 singles category at Tokyo Paralympics.
"This is like an icing on the cake especially after winning the first gold medal in Paralympics for Indian Badminton. This award will only motivate me to work and strive harder and keep pushing myself," said Bhagat, who was awarded the Arjuna Award in 2019.
"I feel my career has just started and I have a long way to go and I am not complacent and not ready to rest on my laurels."
Bhagat is one of the best para shuttlers in the country with 45 international medals to his name, including four world championship gold medals and a gold and a bronze in the 2018 Asian Para Games.
He thanked his "family, friends and the entire country for supporting me in his journey. I would like to thank SAI, TOPS and Go Sports foundation for the support they have given not only me but everybody else which has motivated everyone to perform better," said the shuttler from Odisha, who had contracted polio when he was four years old.
Bhagat, who has recently resumed training to prepare for the Uganda Para-Badminton International Open beginning at Kampala from November 15, hoped to compete in more events this year after Covid-19 disrupted the international schedule.
"Preparations have already begun. The next tournament is going to be in Uganda. I have already started training and preparing myself for the same. I am hoping that we have more tournaments up ahead, last year due to Covid 19 most of the tournaments were cancelled. My aim is 2024 Paralympics and not just to repeat my gold medal feat but also win another medal in mixed doubles or doubles."
Bhagat had missed out on a bronze medal in mixed doubles SL3-SU5 class after he along with his partner Palak Kohli lost the third-place play-off match at the Tokyo Paralympics. Bhagat said he was overwhelmed with the response that he got ever since returning to the country from Tokyo.
"The response has been fantastic, we got a great reception from not only the government but also people. Where ever we went, people recognized us and it gave a sense of pride and also motivated me to strive harder and keep winning medals for India," he said.
"This kind of response was never there earlier especially for Para sports so I am very happy that things are changing and moving in the right directions."