“So good to be back,” England’s Daniel Bethell said after winning the men’s singles Standing Lower (SL3) gold at the Spain Para Badminton International 2021 last month.
“I really wanted to make a statement, given it was the last tournament before Tokyo (Paralympic Games), and I couldn’t be happier with how it went. It was good to see where I stood. It has served as a real confidence booster and given me a great foundation to build on for Tokyo.
“It was an amazing feeling when we got the news that tournaments were back on schedule. As athletes, we put in all our time for this so it’s exciting to compete and win medals again, especially in the run-up to the Paralympics.”
It seemed an indication a sense of normality had resumed, but while crediting BWF and tournament organisers for creating a safe and secure environment, Bethell and team were discerning in their choice of events, giving the Sheikh Hamdan bin Al Rashid Maktoum Dubai Para Badminton International 2021 in April a miss and turning up in Spain as it was the last chance to gain Paralympic qualifying points.
Bethell’s last international event was in November 2019; he’s had to adhere to lockdown rules in England since.
“The team banded together to make sure everyone remained supported and continued to develop despite the adversity. My family helped as I adapted to training at home and through Zoom to get the best out of these limiting circumstances. When we did get back to team training it’s like we hadn’t missed a beat.”
The situation also reinforced the importance of maintaining a positive attitude.
“Cancellation of tournaments and lockdowns were out of my control. I decided not to worry about these things and instead, concentrate on what I could control. This attitude helped me stay focused and gave me goals. I feel like I’m coming out of this pandemic in the best possible shape.”
Taking his mind off badminton for a few hours a day helped as Bethell and his teammates engaged in video games when not training, and Bethell worked on his dissertation for his International and Commercial Law masters degree.
“Who knows? Maybe when my body can’t play anymore, I’ll be a gamer if e-games make the Olympics.”
In the more immediate future, Bethell’s No.2 spot in the Race to Tokyo rankings will take him to the Paralympics but he’s not quite sure what to expect.
“Before this pandemic, some Olympians and Paralympians told me it’ll be like nothing I had ever experienced. Now things will be different but it’ll be exciting to be there in any form it takes. I’m ready to expect the unexpected.”
The atmosphere will probably be the first big challenge, ahead of even his biggest rival, world No. 1 Pramod Bhagat of India.
“The magnitude of the Games will be a challenge in itself. I’ve not experienced an event of this level. Increased media scrutiny and public interest will certainly bring new pressures. It will be important to focus on the job at hand and not be overwhelmed.”
On facing his competitors, Bethell said: “My biggest rival over qualifying has been Pramod but we haven’t faced each other in nearly two years, and I am a better athlete compared to when we last met (November 2019). I’m more confident than ever I can take the gold!”