On Teachers' Day, Indian para badminton contingent gives fitting gift to coach Gaurav Khanna
Indian para badminton National Coach couldn't have been treated to a better Teachers' Day gift than watching his pupils win medals galore at Tokyo Paralympics.
Confidence. Faith. Belief.
Perhaps it is these three words that defined the efforts of the Indian para badminton contingent at the Tokyo Paralympics who will be heading back from Tokyo with four medals clinking and clattering around their necks. Coached by Gaurav Khanna for the Games, the para badminton players from India ensured that this Sunday begins on a high and they are able to repay their coach for all his efforts as Suhas Yathiraj and Krishna Nagar won a silver and a gold respectively and made this Teachers' Day extra special for an overjoyed, bustling Gaurav Khanna.
India sent in a troupe of 7 of their very best para shuttlers who are frequent medallists at the stage of the World Championships and Asian Games to get things rolling at the Paralympics. Their coach, one disciplined and hard task-master, Gaurav Khanna, assured even before the events kicked off that this badminton contingent will be returning with 5 medals, at least and we better, mark his words. Such was his faith in his pupils - who he had worked minutely with at the Gaurav Khanna Excellia Badminton Academy, which is a disabled-friendly accommodation-cum-recovery centre on the outskirts of Lucknow.
"We have a very strong team representing the country at the Paralympics. Out of the six best players of the world selected for the Paralympics, two are Indians. Two from SL3 and two from SL4 category in men's singles...I am pretty sure our players will bring medals and a realistic expectation will be a minimum of five medals. We are going to get five medals, including three golds, for the country," Gaurav Khanna had mentioned in a virtual press conference much ahead of the quadrennial sporting extravaganza.
Taking it up as their duty to fulfil the desires and deliver the promise of their teacher and mentor, every player gave it their all in each of the matches, especially the men's half who ended up playing medal matches. World No. 1 Pramod Bhagat got the party started, leading from the front as he won the gold medal in the Men's Singles SL3 category after dominating Great Britain's Dan Bethell on Day 11 of the Tokyo Paralympics. Meanwhile, Manoj Sarkar competed in the bronze clash and returned with it as well, handing Daisuke Fujihara a heady defeat.
On Day 12, which is the final day of the Games and coincides with Teachers' Day, the Indian para badminton contingent had special plans for their coach, Gaurav Khanna as they were determined to make this day worth it and do their teacher proud. To start things off, it was Tarun Dhillon, the second seed, who contested against Fredy Setiawan of Indonesia in the bronze face-off — it was an early heartbreak for India as he failed to deliver despite being in top-notch form throughout the event.
However, it was Suhas Yathiraj, competing in the Men's Singles SL4 Gold Medal clash that really set the mood for the day. Suhas, an acting-DM of Noida, was in superb form and throughout the match, Gaurav kept cheering on the star athlete cum IAS officer and engineer. Conversing fluidly and motivating himself in the big points, Suhas, at one point even assured Gaurav on the sidelines saying, "Upaarwala aaj saath hain" (God is with me) when he was leading the match. Up against top seed and World Champion, Lucas Mazur, the gold medal clash was incredibly tight and went down to the wire - but never for once did Suhas lose heart, despite being the better player in the match as he settled for silver after coming dangerously to gold.
To keep the medal-winning mood going, it was Krishna Nagar, the World No. 2 in the Men's SH6 category who contested for gold against Hong Kong's Chu Man Kai. The 22-year-old showed rave form, guided on by his coach, he kept his cool and played a see-saw match that went down to three games before the winner was crowned. Nagar was explosive as usual as he decided to lend the Teachers' Day a golden hue and he did it as well - seizing the gold in style as he leapt into the arms of a waiting Gaurav Khanna — a teacher awaiting the success of his student eagerly. Meanwhile, Pramod Bhagat and Palak Kohli also played for bronze in the Mixed Doubles SL3-SU5 event but could not deliver, finishing fourth.
Congratulations to @Krishnanagar99 & @suhasly on winning 🥇 & 🥈 respectively in #badminton! 👏🏻— Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) September 5, 2021
Our performance this year at the #Paralympics has been nothing short of a fairytale & it is just the beginning.
More power to our para athletes! #Praise4Para pic.twitter.com/ypZrrivG0R
However, with 4 medals - one of every hue at least, packed in the bag for India, Gaurav Khanna is beaming proud. Missing out on the 5th medal by only a whisker and falling short of gold for Suhas incredibly narrowly, Khanna's predictions have been on-point, to be fair, he is a man of his word. Just after Pramod won the very first Paralympic badminton medal, a gold at that one too, he too, leapt into the arms of Khanna, both shedding tears of joy, tinged with laughter - the dream was coming to reality, the hard work was reaping results.
"I have a lot of confidence in my students. We are like family, out of which I'm the one who keeps scolding them, being a hard task-master, perhaps. I may go differently but they walk together. It's my privilege to coach them and be with them," Khanna told The Bridge in an exclusive interview after Pramod's gold medal victory.
There is no shame in admitting that Gaurav Khanna isn't a regular, lenient, happy-go-lucky coach and on more occasions than one, our para shuttlers have been pushed to their extremes by him - driven for excellence as they are. Khanna, with the help of his academy where all the players train had been working day in and day out to achieve this Paralympic dream and to stick to his word. On Teachers' Day - the Dronacharya awardee kept his promise as his students packed in a gold and a silver as a fitting gift for the man who made them believe that yes, this dream too, can be a reality, only if you work for it.