The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games showcased Para badminton like no other event. The profile of the sport took a great leap as the unique skills of players were on display before the world.
While all players thrilled the audience, a few players emerged as stars for their unique skills and impressive winning ability in the face of formidable odds.
Bhagat’s confident assertions even before the Paralympics on the certainty of winning gold in men’s singles SL3 might have sounded like cockiness, but the maverick 33-year-old knew what he was doing. He was putting himself in a spot so that he knew he couldn’t afford to make a mistake and embarrass himself. Not only did he fulfill his prediction, he did it in characteristic style – with a display of control, precision and great opportunism. Before climbing on the podium, he celebrated in Usain Bolt style, with a unique celebratory gesture. No other player came close in capturing the moment like he did.
Kajiwara was the breakout star of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Men’s singles WH2 has been dominated by Kim Jung Jun and Chan Ho Yuen, and Kajiwara was not reckoned to be among the gold medal contenders. However, the Japanese showed how far he has developed over the last few months, and proved himself the candidate most likely to take over the reins of men’s singles WH2 from Kim Jung Jun. Kajiwara beat both Chan Ho Yuen and Kim on his way to the gold. At just 19, he could well turn into one of the icons of the sport.
Watching Lucas Mazur drag himself between points in the men’s singles SL4 semifinal against Tarun Dhillon, it looked unlikely that the Frenchman would extend his challenge into the final. Having willed himself past Dhillon, Mazur looked in worse condition in the final against Suhas Yathiraj. Struggling to stay on his feet, the Frenchman somehow kept himself in the contest and outplayed Yathiraj. He nearly repeated the feat in the mixed doubles final as well, as he and Faustine Noel ran Hary Susanto and Leani Ratri Oktila close in the opening game before the effort proved too much in the second. For sheer doggedness, there was none to beat Mazur at the Paralympics.
Leani Ratri Oktila
The Indonesian was a three-gold favourite at the start of the Paralympics and very nearly fulfilled expectations. That she finished with two gold and a silver was spectacular in itself. The gold that narrowly eluded her was the women’s singles SL4. Oktila was in cruise mode in the final before a brief spell of unsteady play cost her the title. She put aside the disappointment for the mixed doubles, and she and Hary Susanto held off a difficult challenge from Mazur and Noel. All through, Oktila’s resourcefulness and ability to pick winners stood out.
The WH1 contender from Japan was in top form all through the Paralympics – not dropping a game in singles or doubles (with Yuma Yamazaki) until the finals. Satomi carried that winning aura into her gold medal bouts, and she looked unstoppable despite losing a game to Sujirat Pookkham in the singles and Liu Yu Tong/Yin Meng Lu in the WH1-WH2 final. After Japan’s disappointing campaign at the Olympics, Satomi and Kajiwara gave the hosts much to cheer about at the Paralympics.
Qu Zimo’s physical prowess was evident, as he won singles and doubles (with Mai Jian Peng) gold without dropping a game in eight matches. Qu was relentless as he ground out his opponents. In doubles there was no chink that his opponents could exploit, as Qu (WH1) and Mai (WH2) were equally adept at staying the course in the rallies. Like his compatriot Liu Yu Tong in women’s singles WH2, Qu is likely to have a long spell at the top of men’s singles in his class.
The attention in SH6 was on Jack Shephard, Krysten Coombs and Chu Man Kai, but Krishna Nagar barely did a thing wrong at the Paralympics, dominating all his contests. He stopped Didin Taresoh (Malaysia) and Vito Tavares (Brazil) in his group in straight games, before a stunning takedown of Krysten Coombs in the semifinal. Chu Man Kai proved harder to beat in the final, but Nagar showed he could produce the goods in tight situations, and his nerveless play at the death helped him win his career’s biggest prize.