At the Binjiang Gymnasium in China, 30 kilometres away from India’s controversy-laden Kabaddi match, a pair in their twenties was writing their own story into the history books.
Ending a 61-year-old wait for India’s first badminton gold at the Asian Games, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirat Shetty finished on top of the podium in a sport China considers its own.
Satwiksairaj and Chirag knew they had achieved something special even before they entered the court and 57 minutes later, they had taken another step to being deservedly called the best India pair ever.
Assured of being the World No. 1 in men’s doubles after their semifinal win, the Indians let out a roar – Chirag made his trademark jump onto Satwik and danced around after a 21-18, 21-16 win against the Korean pair of Solgyu Choi and Kim Won-ho.
“Really happy with the way we played throughout this week, especially Chirag. He got a flu on the first day, he was sick that whole day, and slept for only 2-3 hours,” Satwik said.
“I thought the next day against the Indonesians, it would be a walkover but a really great fight from Chirag. I could sense he was not fit on the court but he didn’t show that.”
The struggles and challenges of the past week all came tumbling out once the gold was pocketed, revealing things hidden hitherto.
“That was a really long night. I barely slept, (had) severe back pain and headache, went to the public clinic the next day and got some medicines,” Chirag said.
“Luckily, we got one day off after that first-round win and I just wanted to go out there and play. I knew if I play, I will be able to push through. I don’t know how it happened but the fever and body pain subsided and I was able to sleep peacefully. I just pushed through till the very end,” he added.
Attacking in abandon with a series of smashes to take control, the Indians looked comfortable in front of packed stands even while trailing.
Like the kabaddi team, the difference was never more than a couple of points and there was no cause for worry. The Koreans sped to 8-4 which soon became 18-15 before the Indians switched gears to take six straight points and take the first game.
The second game was similar as the Indians seized control from the middle, relying mostly on flat smashes and the occasional drops.
A slow court and no drift helped, as did coaches Mathias Boe and Pullela Gopichand from the sidelines.
At 13-12, the Indians reeled off four straight points and even though the Koreans fought back, they only delayed the inevitable which finally came when Kim returned long and the Indians knew it was over.
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