Finals day at the Spanish Para Badminton International 2021 began with a wave of excitement and trepidation as the players took their places on the badminton court. It was a culmination of a week that has seen an incredible 157 players from 36 countries.
A first for Nigeria
A successful candidate on the BWF Female Grant programme, Mariam Eniola Bolaji from Nigeria, made her debut at her first-ever Para badminton tournament this week in the women’s singles Standing Lower (SL3) category. An impressive Bolaji stunned Ukraine’s Oksana Kozyna to claim her first title in the final on Sunday.
The first-timer put on a blistering performance over experienced Kozyna to win not just her first title, but the first Para badminton title for Africa outside the continent.
“I dedicate this title to my late coach, Bello Rafiu Oyebanji,” smiled an exhausted Bolaji.
After losing to Kozyna in the group stage, Bolaji sought to extract revenge on the skilful player.
“I was remembering everything my opponent did to win points so that when I came back, I could win. I didn’t think I could do it. I’m so grateful. I am going to celebrate big when I get back to Nigeria. I have made Africans proud of me,” exclaimed Bolaji.
France’s Lucas Mazur set himself up for a bumper of a day with places in three finals for men’s singles, mixed doubles and men’s doubles.
Starting the day with mixed doubles partner Faustine Noel (SL3 -SU5), Mazur clinched his first title of the day winning 21-12 21-8 over Japan’s Daisuke Fujihara and Akiki Sugino.
Later in the day, Mazur faced Russia’s Pavel Kulikov in the men’s singles (SL4) final. Mazur was electrifying, knocking out lengthy rallies and putting the shuttlecock in hard-to-reach places for the Russian.
Winning 21-13 21-8, the Frenchman picked up his second title of the day.
“I feel so proud to win this title in Spain. I feel very happy. My opponent is getting better but I’m feeling good and a little tired after two matches today,” said Mazur.
Mazur has secured his ticket to Tokyo and the Frenchman says the goal is gold for him: “I’m so happy to represent France, it’s a honour and a pleasure. I’m not going to the Paralympics for the photos, I’m going for the title,” added Mazur.
Norway’s sole flag bearer at the event, Helle Sofie Sagoy, comfortably claimed gold today in the women’s singles Standing Lower (SL4) over Japan’s Haruka Fujino 21-8 21-7.
“This title means a lot to me. It’s shown me how far I’ve come. All the training has paid off and I can see that I’m in great shape,” Sagoy said.
Confirming her place at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, she added: “Wow, this is fantastic. I’m going to Tokyo! It’s so cool to show this sport to the world because Para badminton makes its debut. I can’t wait.”