The year 2021 finally saw badminton make its long-awaited, pandemic-delayed debut at the Paralympic Games and Tokyo 2020 showcased the sport like no other event. As a result, the profile of Para badminton took a great leap, with the unique skills of players on display before the world.
A few players emerged stars for their impressive winning ability in the face of formidable odds.
Men’s singles WH2 has been dominated by Kim Jungjun 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, beating both Chan and Kim on his way to gold. Just 19, he could well turn into one of the icons of the sport.
Nagar barely did a thing wrong, dominating all his contests. He stopped Didin Taresoh (Malaysia) and Vitor Gonçalves 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 produced the goods in tight situations, and his nerveless play at the death helped him win his career’s biggest prize.
Qu’s physical prowess was evident, as he won singles and doubles (with Mai Jianpeng) gold without dropping a game in eight matches. Qu was relentless as he ground out his opponents. In doubles, there was no chink to be exploited, as Qu (WH1) and Mai (WH2) were equally adept at staying the course in the rallies. Like his compatriot Liu in women’s singles WH2, Qu is likely to have a long spell at the top of men’s singles in his class.
The Japanese WH1 contender was in top form all through – 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 looked unstoppable despite losing a game to Sujirat Pookkham in the singles and Liu Yutong/Yin Menglu in the WH1-WH2 doubles final. After Japan’s disappointing Olympics, Satomi and Kajiwara gave the hosts much to cheer about at the Paralympics.
Bhagat’s confident assertions even before the Paralympics on the certainty of winning men’s singles SL3 gold might have sounded cocky but the maverick 33-year-old knew what he was doing. Not only did he fulfill his prediction, he did it in characteristic style – with a display of control, precision and great opportunism. Before climbing the podium, he struck Usain Bolt’s signature “To Di World” pose. No other player came close in capturing the moment like he did.
Watching 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. Struggling to stay on his feet, he somehow kept himself in the contest and outplayed Suhas 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 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 Susanto held off a difficult challenge from Mazur and Noel. All through, Oktila’s resourcefulness and ability to pick winners stood out.