The world's No.1 para-shuttler Pramod Bhagat has overcome more than his fair share of adversity. When it comes to paralympians in India and their success stories, struggle, dedication and hard work have always played a key role. The story of the left-handed para-badminton player is no different.
It's a tale of grit, determination, and hard work which can serve to inspire athletes for decades to come. Born into a middle-class family in Odisha’s Bargarh district, Pramod Bhagat has gone on to achieve a lot in his career so far.
Growing up, Pramod Bhagat "didn't even know" of a sport called badminton
Having been afflicted by polio when he was just five years old, Pramod Bhagat suffered a defect in his left leg. However, he never let that be a barrier for him. After years of dedication and a strong will to succeed, he is all set to compete for the highest honor in the SL3 (Standing/lower limb impairment/minor) category in the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, Pramod Bhagat said:
“Every athlete has faced hurdles in their lives but being a para-athlete, we have faced more hurdles. Coming from a middle-class family and taking up badminton professionally, the road has been really difficult. We have faced several challenges like what will people think, what will society think, and what if we fail in sports? The questions were many but when you are dedicated to doing something, it automatically happens to you. I haven’t got everything that I wanted to, but then I have at least got something to cheer for."
When we asked Pramod Bhagat about his love for the sport, he recalled his youth, when he first caught the bug, and said:
“I didn’t even know that there is a sport called badminton. In my village, everyone played cricket and I was no different. But sometimes an incident happens and your way of seeing life changes. The same thing happened to me too. When I was in class eight, some seniors in my village used to play outdoor badminton during winters. I don’t know how but I got attracted to the game and started playing it. Everyone encouraged me to play and from there on, I represented the district, state, nationals, and so on. There has been no looking back.”
Pramod Bhagat's achievements speak volumes about just how good he is. The 33-year-old has been immensely successful in multiple editions of the BWF Para-Badminton World Championships, winning gold medals in both men’s singles and doubles. He has also clinched medals in some of the top events around the globe, including the IWAS World Games, Asian Para Games, and Asian Para Badminton Championship.
Summing up the effort that still lays ahead in order to be able to go for the gold medal, Pramod Bhagat said:
“People are talking that I am a gold medal hopeful for India but if you take my thoughts, then I still feel I have a lot to work to get a gold. I am mentally prepared but physically, I still have a lot to work on, for which I have increased the hard work that I was doing. Our practice is going really well with the support and guidance of coaches, physios, and other support staff. And with all this hard work and dedication, I feel I will succeed at the Olympics."
Pramod Bhagat also realizes the weight of expectations and responsibilities on his shoulders. Putting the pressure into perspective, he said:
“The whole of India is hopeful that Pramod Bhagat will bring gold. So, definitely, I will have some pressure of being the World Champion but I will try to eliminate it as much as I can. To eliminate all this mental pressure and keep our minds stable, we are doing Yoga every weekend. I am hopeful I will be able to create history at the Paralympics.”
Speaking about his toughest competitor at the quadrennial event, Pramod Bhagat said:
“It would be England’s Daniel Bethell. He is currently ranked World No. 2 and has given me tough competition in my previous tournaments. He is a much stronger player both mentally and physically.”
The Indian para-badminton contingent have been training hard for the biggest test of their respective careers, and Pramod Bhagat is no different. Providing an insight into their preparation for the Paralympics, he delved into some detail about their technical training:
“Before two-three months, we were focusing on increasing our power of shots, used to do more strength training but now we have shifted to more of technical training which involves more game-time on the court. We are trying to create a similar situation to that of the Olympic Village and play accordingly. We are also trying to stay maximum time on the ground as we will be playing on the court only.”
Pramod Bhagat takes inspiration from Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar and badminton superstar Lin Dan. He credits his success to his parents and the people of Attabira and Bargarh. During his early days of playing badminton, renowned Odisha para-badminton coach Shiba Prasad Das took him under his wings.
Pramod says that Shiba Prasad’s contribution to the sport in his home state is unmatched. He also termed current national team coach Gaurav Khanna "a great coach" and said they were hopeful of succeeding on the biggest stage.
With the motive of inspiring young sportspeople across India, Pramod Bhagat is on a mission. The Odisha government has also extended its support and good wishes to Pramod and the other Olympians participating this year. The state's Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has announced cash awards of six, four and 2.5 crore rupees for gold, silver and bronze medal winners respectively. Aside from that, participants from the state will be awarded 15 lakh rupees each from the state government.
Pramod Bhagat, who was recently recommended for the prestigious Khel Ratna award by the Odisha government, had a few words of encouragement for aspiring athletes. He said:
“Whatever you do, please do it with all your heart. You will surely find success. There will be enough hurdles in life, both mentally and physically, but your willpower and courage to break all barriers and be the champion will speak for you. The whole world will help you to fulfill your dream. If I can do it, you can do this too! Just trust the process, everything else will fall in place,”
Concluding the conversation with Sportskeeda with a line from his favorite movie, Pramod Bhagat said:
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“I would just like to mention a dialogue of Shahrukh Khan from the movie Om Shanti Om which always inspires me, 'Kehte hain agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaho … to poori kainath use tumse milane ki koshish mein lag jaati hai.'"