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18 days to Tokyo Olympics: The story of India's ascent in badminton at the Summer Games

Rio Olympics silver medalist PV Sindhu
Rio Olympics silver medalist PV Sindhu
Suhas Nayse
EXPERT

Badminton made its debut as an official event at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and has since been contested in all six editions that followed. 69 different nations have appeared in the Olympic badminton competitions, with 19 appearing all seven times.

Out of the 19 countries, India is one of the nations which has managed to compete in each of the badminton events in the Olympics so far.

Apart from the two medals, badminton has given a lot of recognition to India over the years. Until the 2008 Beijing Olympics, only two or three Indians used to qualify for the Summer Games.

However, things started to change for the better from the 2012 London Olympics. As many as five Indians qualified for the Games in that edition. India had representation in four out of five disciplines, with men's doubles being the only exception.

For the first time, the women’s and mixed doubles pairs of India made it to the Olympics that year. Jwala Gutta partnered Ashwini Ponnappa in the women’s and V Diju in the mixed doubles.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, India fielded a maximum of seven players, a record so far. Barring mixed doubles, at least one player or pair competed for India.

Although India has a strong history of badminton in the Olympics ever since its inception in 1992, London was the turning point in terms of gaining a foothold in the sport at the Summer Games.

Parupalli Kashyap created history by reaching the quarter-finals of men’s singles at the London Olympics to become the first male player from India to do so. He put up a brilliant display against the formidable Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia in the quarter-finals at Wembley Arena before going down fighting.

London Olympics was the turning point for Indian badminton

A couple of days later at the same venue, Saina Nehwal ended the India’s medal drought by claiming the bronze medal in the women’s singles. It was a historic moment for Indian badminton. Saina’s medal not only changed the entire badminton scenario in the country but also inspired hundreds of upcoming shuttlers to believe in themselves.

If Saina Nehwal can win an Olympic medal, PV Sindhu can do even better. Following in the footsteps of herfellow Hyderabadi, Sindhu clinched a historic silver medal in the next edition in Rio. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Sindhu gave India its second individual medal in badminton. She lost to Spain's Carolina Marin in the final.

In the Rio Olympics, the world No. 11, Kidambi Srikanth stormed into the pre-quarter-finals of the men’s singles by beating Lino Muñoz and Henri Hurskainen.

The in-form Srikanth went on to upset World No. 5 Jan O Jorgensen of Denmark 21-19, 21-19 to reach the quarter-finals. However, Srikanth’s splendid run was halted by Lin Dan. The Chinese legend overcame a stiff challenge from Srikanth to a marathon encounter 21-6, 11-21, 21-18.

Earlier in 2004 at the Athens Olympics, Nikhil Kanetkar did quite well to reach Round 16.

The left-handed Pune shuttler defeated Sergio Llopis of Spain in the first round. But in the pre-quarters, Kanetkar was beaten by then world No. 2 Peter Gade of Denmark.

“I have plenty of good memories of the Athens Olympics. I still remember my first match against the Spanish player Sergio Llopis. I won that match in three games to register my first win in the Olympics. Against Peter Gade, I played really well. In fact, I was leading 10-6 in the first game before the Denmark great bounced back to win the match 15-10, 15-7. It was a memorable match for me,” said Kanetkar while recalling the Athens memories.

Kanetkar went on to add that Peter Gade lost in the next round against Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia, who later won the gold medal.

“Since Lin Dan lost in the first round, it was a two-way fight for the gold medal. It was certain that whoever won the quarter-final between Peter Gade and Taufik Hidayat will win the title. It happened exactly that way. Hidayat beat Gade and went on to bag the gold medal,” said Kanetkar.

He also lamented the fact that he missed the Sydney Olympics berth by a whisker.

“I had a chance to represent the 2000 Olympics but missed it by just one spot. I had reached the quarter-finals of the French Open. Had I entered the semis that time I could have qualified for the Olympics four years earlier,” said Kanetkar.

This time in the Tokyo Olympics, only four Indians have qualified, which is much less than the last edition which saw a record 7 entries. Due to the cancelation of several tournaments caused by the pandemic, Kidambi Srikanth, Saina Nehwal and Ashwini Ponnappa failed to garner enough points for the qualifications.

Sindhu, B Sai Praneeth, Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy will be representing India at the Games. Rio Olympic silver medallist Sindhu is India’s biggest hope for a medal in Tokyo.

The onus is now on Sindhu, Sai Praneeth and doubles duo Satwiksairaj and Chirag to raise their games and help India complete a hat-trick of medals in badminton.

INDIANS IN OLYMPICS SO FAR (BADMINTON)

1992 Barcelona: Dipankar Bhattacharya, U Vimal Kumar and Madhumita Bisht.

1996 Atlanta: Dipankar Bhattacharya and PVV Lakshmi.

2000 Sydney: Pullela Gopichand and Aparna Popat.

2004 Athens: Nikhil Kanetkar, Abhin Shyam Gupta and Aparna Popat.

2008 Beijing: Anup Sridhar and Saina Nehwal.

2012 London: Paripulli Kashyap, Saina Nehwal, Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponnappa and V Diju.

2016 Rio: Kidambi Srikanth, B Sumeeth Reddy, Manu Attri, PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa.

2020 Tokyo: B Sai Praneeth, PV Sindhu, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty.


Edited by S Chowdhury
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