Suhas Lalinakere Yathiraj – the District Magistrate from Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh – has made India proud in badminton yet again. The 33-year-old IAS officer scripted history by becoming the first ever serving Indian bureaucrat to win a gold medal at the highest level of any sporting event.
He returned to the country to a hero’s welcome on Tuesday after bagging the gold medal at the Asian Paralympic Championship in Beijing on November 27. This victory was Yathiraj’s first championship title under the Badminton World Federation (BWF).
Although the DM from Azamgarh got a wildcard entry to the championships, he proved his worth, winning six consecutive matches at a stretch. He finally won the Para-Badminton World Championships, which is an individual bi-annual event organised by the BWF, by defeating Indonesian para-shuttler Harry Susanto in straight sets – 21-4 and 21-11.
When asked about the victory, Yathiraj’s spouse Ritu Suhas who is a PCS officer, told Hindustan Times, “It is a wonderful feeling. I can’t explain in words. We woke up to the gold news. I offered special prayers for his victory. His hard work and dedication to badminton materialised his dream to win the gold.”
Suhas also got a pleasant surprise on his way back to Azamgarh, when he received a call from M Lokesh, the deputy commissioner of Shimoga, who wanted to felicitate Yathiraj.
“I never knew that I would become an IAS officer and that I would win a medal. I have learnt with experience that one should pursue his passion,” said the civil service officer on winning his maiden championship.
The son of a civil engineer from Shimoga district in Karnataka, Yathiraj completed his IAS in 2007. He surprised his colleagues a decade ago when he decided to leave his job as a software engineer in Bengaluru to pursue civil services.
Always passionate about badminton, Yathiraj accepted that he had a hard time balancing his passion and dream job. He said, “I would give two hours in the morning before starting my meetings and then at night whenever I would get time.”
He used to practise regularly with local enthusiasts after his office hours, at a stadium in Azamgarh. He eventually made his way to the 26-member Indian team that landed in the Chinese capital to participate in the tournament.
Having been given a huger morale boost by this victory, the 33-year-old has now set his eyes on the world championship in Korea and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.