India's para badminton players show their mettle in the Asian Para Games
With 72 medals, India recorded its best-ever performance at the 2018 Asian Para Games. 15 gold, 24 silver, and 33 bronze medals is a rich haul and earned India ninth place in the overall tally.
The final two gold medals came from the para badminton team. In men's singles SL3 class, Pramod Bhagat beat Ukun Rukaendi of Indonesia, 21-19, 15-21, 21-14, to win the gold medal. Athletes in the SL3 category generally have a disability in one or both lower limbs and poor walking or running balance. Players with cerebral palsy, bilateral polio or loss of both legs below the knee compete in half-court (lengthwise) to reduce the impact of the disability.
For Pramod, the win was made sweeter given the massive injury scare he suffered in the months leading up to the Games.
I was playing Ukan for the second time and when we last met in 2016, I was able to beat him then also. But this victory was much more sweeter as I was struggling with injuries for the last two months and was little sceptical of getting injured again. The home support was huge but I tried to play simple and not change my game or tried to do anything extraordinary. - Pramod Bhagat, Gold medalist, 2018 Asian Para Games
The other shuttler to win honours on the final day was Tarun Dhillon, who won gold for India by beating China's Yuyang Gao, 21-16, 21-6, in the men's singles SL4 class.
Tarun was able to defeat the local favourite and avenge his defeat to the same player in the 2014 Asian Para games. Athletes in the SL4 class have a lesser disability compared to SL3. They play full-court. Players with a disability in one or both lower limbs, unilateral polio or mild cerebral palsy fall in this category.
The doubles partnership of Pramod Bhagat and Manoj Sarkar added a bronze medal to the para badminton doubles tally. They lost the semi-final to Indonesia's Dwiyoko and Setiawan Fredy.
Sarkar, a two-time World Champion, lost the semi-final clash to Rukandi and said he was under pressure.
"Overall I learned a lot from the Games. Being recently conferred with the Arjuna Award and being World No. 1 for some time added lots of responsibilities on me which added unnecessary pressure. That's why my first match went bad and soon I realized that I have to start from scratch to win here. I would also like to thank the fans back home for their tremendous support."
What makes India's performance in the space of para badminton so remarkable is the enormous struggles they went through to get to this point. The players were struggling to conduct their camp and it was only after the support of GoSports Foundation that they were able to finally hold one in Lucknow.
Pramod, Manoj and Tarun are part of the GoSport Foundation Para Champions Programme and the foundation has been looking after their international competition expenses. Sarkar.
Given this, the final result of nine medals at the Games is indeed a matter of great pride Coach Gaurav Khanna called it "a wonderful result", a "proof that Para badminton is actually developing."
Next on their goalpost is the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, where badminton will be an official sport for the first time.