Pramod Bhagat wins historic badminton gold in Paralympics

Manoj Sarkar bagged the bronze, defeating Japan’s Daisuke Fujihara in the third place play-off

Reigning world champion Pramod Bhagat on Saturday claimed a historic gold medal in men’s singles SL3 class while Manoj Sarkar bagged the bronze as India stamped their prowess at the Tokyo Paralympics here.

Bhagat beat Great Britain’s Daniel Bethell in the summit clash while Sarkar defeated Japan’s Daisuke Fujihara in the third place play-off, with both the Indians winning in straight games.

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In SL3 classification, athletes with lower limb impairment are allowed to compete.

With badminton making its debut at the Paralympics this year, Bhagat, the current world No. 1, thus became the first Indian to win a gold medal in the sport.

The top seeded Indian, also an Asian champion, showed great mental fortitude as he prevailed 21-14 21-17 over second seeded Bethell in a thrilling final that lasted 45 minutes at the Yoyogi National Stadium.

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The 33-year-old from Bhubaneswar also remains in contention for a bronze medal in mixed doubles SL3-SU5 class.

Bhagat and his partner Palak Kohli will square off against Japanese pair of Daisuke Fujihara and Akiko Sugino in the bronze medal play off on Sunday.

They had lost the semifinals 3-21 15-21 to Indonesian combination of Hary Susanto and Leani Ratri Oktila earlier in the day.

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Bhagat, who had contracted polio when he was 4 years old, picked up the sports after watching his neighbours play. Initially, he competed against able-bodied players before getting into competitive para badminton in 2006.

He eventually emerged as one of the best para shuttlers in the country with 45 international medals under his belt, including four world championship gold medals and a gold and a bronze in 2018 Asian Para Games.

He also had started his career as a badminton coach but took a break in 2019 to focus on Tokyo Paralympics qualification.

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In 2019, he received the Arjuna Award and Biju Patnaik Award for Excellence in Sports in India.

The 31-year-old Sarkar, who whose right leg was affected after he contracted polio at age one, displayed great resilience during his 22-20 21-13 win over Fujihara.

In the semifinals, Sarkar couldn’t get into any sort of rhythm against second seeded Great Britain’s Daniel Bethell, going down 8-21 10-21 in the men’s singles SL3 class.

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But he recovered quickly from the defeat to produce a superb show to claim the bronze.

Sarkar had taken up badminton at age five but it was the passion to win against his elder brothers which led him to play the sports seriously. He played inter-school competition against able-bodied players till the 11th grade before starting to compete in para badminton in 2011.

He won a gold medal in the SL3 singles at the 2016 Asian Championships in Beijing. In 2018, he received the Arjuna Award and a year later, he was named Para Sportsman of the Year at the Sportstar Aces Awards.

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Earlier in the day, Suhas Yathiraj and Krishna Nagar also sailed into the men’s singles finals of SL4 class and SH6 class respectively.

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