It's almost two weeks since Saina Nehwal won a bronze at the London Olympics and the 22-year-old has been busy saying "thank you". The cliché comes to her rescue, "If I had a nickel for every time I said thank you, I would be a millionaire," she smiles. The congratulatory messages have kept the shuttler occupied and Saina is basking in the newfound glory.
"This Olympics was a great experience. I wanted to do my best and here I am…" Saina told HT from Hyderabad. "I hope people in India realise that getting a medal there is not a joke," she adds. And her ire is well placed. Jabs like, "she won medal because her opponent withdrew" do pinch, but she shows enough maturity to not let these remarks bother her.
"People can say what they want. I am not bothered. I know how hard I worked to be up there, I played tough matches and came through it. I didn't expect to win the medal, but I guess God was on my side. Luck is important too."
Saina's bronze-medal match against China's Wang Xin was turning out to be a nerve-wracking one, what with the Indian bouncing back after a sluggish start. "And then Xin played a shot from the baseline and fell. I was shocked. I knew she was tired but didn't know it was that bad. Even after she conceded the match, it didn't enter my mind that the bronze was mine."
When did it sink in? "On the podium," she said. "I was holding my medal when I remembered what all I had put in to be here. What my coach and parents had gone through."
And that's when Saina broke down, something that has never happened in her moment of victory. "That's how much being there meant to me," is the only reason she could fathom. She recalls how the event was like any other tournament for her.
"We were not staying at the Games Village, but at a hotel near the Wembley Arena. So, we didn't meet athletes from others sports. It was like a normal badminton tournament…except for the five rings in the badminton hall, which reminded us of the magnitude of the event."