After Arjuna Award nomination, para-shuttler Bhagat eyes gold at World Championships

Life hasn't been a bed of roses for Pramod Bhagat, but he has made it a point to overcome the odds and achieve top ranking in para-badminton.

Pramod Bhagat recently clinched the men’s singles gold at the FZ Forza Para-Badminton International in Ireland in June.   -  Twitter/@pramodbhagat83

One would think champion para-shuttler Pramod Bhagat has all the reasons to celebrate, having made it to the final recommendations of the elite 19-member list for the Arjuna awards on Saturday. However, when the World No. 1 shuttler spoke to Sportstar late Tuesday from Basel in Switzerland, the excitement had somewhat died down.

“Yes, for sure this is good news, especially having waited for it for so many years, but there is more to worry about. The World Championships presently has all my focus since a good performance here will guarantee my place at Tokyo (Paralympics). Nothing less than a gold will satisfy me," said the 31-year-old Bhagat, who has already won eight international gold medals from the six tournaments he participated this year (five singles and three doubles).

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Becoming the eighth Arjuna award winner from Odisha, Bhagat recently clinched the men’s singles gold at the FZ Forza Para-Badminton International in Ireland in June. Before that, he also emerged victorious at the IWAS World Games in Sharjah in February, and at the Turkish International – ENESCUP 2019 in March. These feats were followed by medals in Dubai and Uganda Internationals in April.

Suffering from polio since the age of four, Bhagat started playing badminton in 2002. However, he was introduced to the para-badminton circuit only in 2006.

Life hasn't been a bed of roses and Bhagat had once decided to quit, following a financial crisis in 2011. But he isn't labelled a ‘fighter’ for nothing, and now Bhagat already has 37 international medals -- 17 gold, 7 silver and 13 bronze under his belt. He also has 46 national medals (30 gold, 14 silver and two bronze) in his kitty.

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Do these recognitions help boost his showing on the court? Bhagat, who will become the fourth para-badminton player to get an Arjuna award after Parul Parmer, Raj Kumar and Manoj Sarkar, smiled and said, “These awards are special but adds to the pressure of performance. Once you get rewarded you kind of have to show that you deserve it as well.”

Bhagat, however, was also disappointed that national coach Gaurav Khanna missed out on the coveted Dronacharya Award. “He has been there with us throughout and it is sad that he didn't make the list. I immediately checked the awardee list once I landed in Basel, and was both happy and disappointed at the same time. It would have been great if we both could have made it together. The other athletes and I have already written to Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju. Don't know what went wrong but let's see what happens.”

However, Khanna was hardly bothered. Moreover, he couldn't stop gushing about his pupil when contacted. “It is obviously a great achievement... A milestone rather. He always maintains this positive outlook and is very down to earth. He has a long way to go and we are all very happy for him. But the path ahead is tougher and I do not want his achievement to put pressure on his performance here. If he performs well, his road to Tokyo will be clear.”

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