After annexing his fourth World Championship crown, the para shuttler looks to continue his domination of the sport in the time ahead.
BWF Para Badminton World Championships 2022: Pramod Bhagat, the man of gold
After a historic Tokyo win, defending his men’s singles SL3 title and bagging gold, Bihar’s Pramod Bhagat’s eyes are set on the 2024 Paris Paralympics and on becoming a five-time world champion like former No. 1 Lin Dan
There was a sense of déjà vu as Pramod Bhagat took to the courts at the BWF Para Badminton World Championships last week. He was back in Tokyo — and at the same venue — where he had won India’s first Paralympic gold in badminton last year. Under the circumstances, Bhagat felt at home, thriving on his pleasant memories from the past.
After clearing the round robin stage with relative ease, there was more of the same to follow. In the knockouts, he faced familiar faces in Oleksandr Chyrkov and Daisuke Fujihara — two opponents he had beaten at the Paralympics. This time around too, he lived up to his reputation as the top seed to trump both en route the final. And after beating his counterpart, Nitesh Kumar, 21-19, 21-19, in the summit clash, Bhagat had done enough to pick up gold and defend his world championship crown in the SL3 category.
“There is absolutely no pressure these days. I’ve been playing for over 15 years now and have come across every situation there is, gaining vital experience through each of them. If I enjoy the game, I know the results will follow,” says Bhagat.
“It felt great to be back in Tokyo. But of course, nothing comes close to winning the Paralympic gold,” he adds.
That medal in 2021 changed his life. He was recognised for the historic win and started receiving support from various quarters. It had been a long wait for Bhagat since the day he turned professional back in 2005. And over all the years, he believes it’s his consistency that has kept him in the reckoning at every stage.
“If you are regular, everything remains intact, whether it’s your speed, rhythm, skill set or confidence level. But the moment you stop, you’ll see a drop in performance. This is what I’ve done over time — maintained my rhythm and just continued to do what I am good at,” says the 34-year-old.
Since his first appearance at the World Championships in 2007, Bhagat has won four gold (2009, 2015, 2019, 2022) and two bronze medals (2007, 2017) in the singles. Over in the doubles, he’s bagged two gold (2013, 2019), two silver (2015, 2022) and a bronze (2007). The 2019 edition in Basel remains his favourite memory at the World Championships.
“In that final, I lost the first game 6-21. I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing, but I was determined to do well and win. I took the next two games 21-14, 21-7, so it was a memorable comeback. A doubles gold followed and around the same time, I was handed the Arjuna Award,” he recalls.
The World Championships win was Bhagat’s fourth title since March this year. But a constant thorn in his flesh were the three losses against current World No. 1, Daniel Bethell.
“I felt like something was missing as part of my training. So I decided to shift base to the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence in Bengaluru, a little over two months before the World Championships,” Bhagat says.
At the academy, he picked up handy tips from former internationals, Vimal Kumar and Sagar Chopda, as well as DK Sen, father of current World No. 6, Lakshya Sen. Besides the work on court, he spent a lot of time in the gym to focus on fitness.
“Skill never dies and I know that if I’m at my peak fitness, my game will flourish. The work that I put in before the tournament was critical to my success,” he says.
While Bethell withdrew from the tournament due to injury, in Kumar, Bhagat faced a young opponent who beat him in the semifinal of the Brazil Para Badminton International title in April this year.
“Nitesh is really hard working and has grown as a player in a short amount of time. The evening before the final, I was running a slight fever and the body felt weak. But once I reached the arena, I had just one thought — to finish what I had started and become world champion again,” he says.
The duo shares a tight bond and spends quite some time together exchanging notes on the game and sharing meals. After the win, Kumar walked up and asked if he could have Bhagat’s jersey.
“It was an honour to play a younger opponent. Nitesh did really well and it wasn’t easy. But I also know that I am the best and if I could put in the performance that I am capable of, it was possible to win the final,” he adds.
A fourth singles gold at the World Championships is testimony to the fact that even at his age, there’s no stopping Bhagat. He also picked up silver alongside Manoj Sarkar after going down in the doubles final to Indonesia’s Himkat Ramdani and Ukun Rukaendi. And though they didn’t make the cut for the World Championships, he hopes to make rapid progress in the mixed doubles alongside his teenaged partner, Manisha Ramdass, who took gold in the women’s SU5 final.
“With young partners, I have to get them to understand things and nurture them. They have the energy and the speed, but they lack experience. So as a senior player, I have to guide them on what needs to be done, so that we are in sync and understand each other,” he says.
Bhagat has his eyes set on defending his singles crown at the 2024 Paralympics in Paris. But for now, he wants to add a fifth World Championships gold to his collection in the time ahead.“I want to become a five-time world champion like Lin Dan (former World No. 1). This is my dream,” he says.