Sportsman of the year, shuttler Pramod Bhagat set to shine at the grandest stage of Paralympics
The Arjuna awardee and world no. 1 aims to make history with a podium finish at the Tokyo Paralympics
Pramod Bhagat became one of India's most recognizable and revered names through years of consistency, persistence and determination as he kept hauling in championships and trophies at a rapid pace. The 33-year-old current world no. 1 has beaten some of the world's best, but his hunger to succeed despite the odds and his will to overcome any challenge thrown his way, irrespective of how big, is truly astounding.
The para-badminton World championship gold medalist had quite a journey from Attabira in Bargarh District to the grandest stage at the Tokyo Paralympics. He is part of a big family, being one of six siblings instilling a competitive nature in him at a very nascent stage. He picked up skills quite quickly as a child and did not let a defect on his leg caused due to Polio deter him from pursuing his goals or completing his tasks.
"I was the quintessential honhaar baccha (dedicated child). I always aspired to do my best, and I used to pick up skills pretty quickly. It was almost as if I had an in-built sportsman inside me," said Pramod, reports ESPN.
A life-changing incident occurred when he was 13 as he witnessed his first badminton match. The footwork, fitness levels and skill levels required to play the sport mesmerized the young boy who kept with him these nooks and small details that made the sport beautiful even after years of experience. The next two years were key to him becoming the legend that he is right now, as he ventured into the sport with a single-minded focus of improving his skills and competing against the best.
He played his first tournament at the age of 15, competing in the normal category. Unfortunately, he lost despite putting up a fight but was encouraged to further pursue the sport by spectators who recognized his skillsets and pushed him to hone them further.
The youngster took the advice given by the spectators watching him play in stride as he worked tirelessly on his game the next couple of years. He won the district level tournament in the normal category before shifting into para-badminton. The ace shuttler announced his arrival on the world stage when he won silver and gold in the singles and doubles events at the Asian Para Games in 2009. It was nothing but steady growth and more titles to follow post his first victory at the international stage as the ace para-shuttler made his presence felt by defeating some of the best in the world.
He won gold at the BWF Para-Badminton World Championship in 2015 at the singles event, making it his first individual gold at the international stage while also winning silver at the doubles events. The podium streak continued for the golden-eyed boy from Odisha as he racked up more medals at the international stage, culminating in a historic medal tally at the BWF Para World Championships in 2019, where he won two gold medals. Pramod is not one for taking the limelight but truly deserved it after years of hard work, patience, persistence and dedication to his craft.
"I can't explain what I felt after winning. I had goosebumps. I was on the same stage as people I had always looked up to - Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu. Badminton greats like Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan, Nozomi Okuhara played on the same courts. It felt unreal," he said in an interview to ESPN post his win.
His win at the 2019 World championship put him in pole position as the favourite to win at the Tokyo Paralympics. Pramod is not taking any chances as he focuses and trains with the sole purpose of achieving his dream of clinching the gold for his country.
"I have been training for about 10 hours a day with national coach Gaurav Khanna. Usually, my training schedule spans anywhere between six to eight hours, but now with the Paralympics coming soon, I am putting my best foot forward by dedicating a good amount of time just to practice strokes," he said, reports ESPN.
Pramod also utilized the additional preparation time, despite all the concerns surrounding the pandemic, to work on his weaknesses and also focus on the mental aspects of his game.
"Bringing better perception skills to my game is my primary goal. I want to be aware of all possible strokes and what they may do, where they may lead. I think I've utilized this time to work on my weaknesses, and 2021 can be an even better year for me than 2020 could've been. You can recover if you're physically tired, but if you're mentally drained, you won't be able to play. Juggling both is majorly about the mindset you're currently in. Body support is important, but if your mind isn't fit, body fitness becomes secondary," he replied when asked about his preparation for the Paralympics, reports ESPN.
Pramod Bhagat has the chance to create history at the Tokyo Paralympics, knowing his consistency, determination and dedication, he will give it his all to land on the podium with the gold around his neck and make the country proud.