I never thought I'll do something big in life: Tokyo Paralympics silver medal winner Suhas Yathiraj

  • Noida district magistrate Suhas Yathiraj on juggling his life as a bureaucrat and Paralympics medal-winning athlete.
Silver medalist Suhas Yathiraj of India poses on the podium. (Getty) PREMIUM
Silver medalist Suhas Yathiraj of India poses on the podium. (Getty)
Published on Sep 06, 2021 10:55 PM IST
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By Rutvick Mehta, Mumbai

It’s been a whirlwind 18 months for Suhas Yathiraj. Just as his training for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics along with coach Gaurav Khanna was picking up pace in Lucknow towards the end of 2019, Yathiraj was summoned to Noida months later when Covid-19 began to grip the country in March. As the call of duty beckoned for Noida’s district magistrate, badminton had to take a back seat.

It indeed did, but his commitment towards giving his best in Tokyo did not. Yathiraj tirelessly performed his administrative role amid the pandemic as the DM of Gautam Buddh Nagar through the day, before taking some time out at night for his badminton. The 38-year-old found a few sparring partners in Noida, assessing his progress over video calls with Khanna every alternate day. The time spent on the court honing his skills having dropped significantly, Yathiraj's primary focus was to ensure that his fitness levels didn’t.   

Despite a shift in priorities for a major part of last year, Yathiraj ticked his goal of winning a medal at the delayed Paralympics. The shuttler, with impairment in his ankle who took up the sport professionally only five years ago, bagged the silver in the men’s singles SL4 category after losing a gripping battle with world No. 1 Frenchman Lucas Mazur 21-15, 17-21, 15-21 in the final on Sunday.

In this chat with HT after his final, the IAS officer of the 2007 batch of Uttar Pradesh cadre talks about his father’s role in pushing him to follow his passion as a kid in Shimoga, Karnataka, and why he believes he has broken an age-old myth in the country. Excerpts:

Having been through so much in the last year-and-a-half, how satisfying is this silver medal?

It’s very satisfying. This medal gives me extreme happiness and also extreme disappointment. The final against Lucas was very close, and I almost had the gold medal in my bag. That feeling will always remain with me. But you can always look at hindsight and say ki kaash aisa hota (only if it would’ve happened this way). But destiny has been very kind to have brought me so far. When you pursue your passion and desire, there is always one more step, and probably a gold medal would have been that one more step. But there’s no other tournament where I could have won a medal for the country and felt prouder. This is the pinnacle of sporting achievement, and I’m very grateful to have reached there.

You ran the world No. 1 really close. What made the difference in the end?

Two-three little things. In the second part of the second set, I made a few unforced errors which should have been avoided. Secondly, on one side of the court, the drift was very strong. All the players were finding it difficult to adjust to it even after playing so many matches. So on a few shots, I misjudged how much the shuttle will travel. Otherwise, I was playing extremely well. He (Mazur) appeared to be more tired, so I was confident of pulling it off. But in the end, he was probably the better player on the day.

When you look back at your journey as a kid with impairment and the different fields that you have excelled in, did you imagine becoming a Paralympic medallist one day as well?

Never. When I was a child, I never expected that I’ll be able to do something big in life. I only watched others doing it on TV. It was my father who instilled a lot of confidence early in my childhood to push forward with whatever I had the passion for, be it academics or sports. In my badminton career, I always took it one step at a time. Aur kehte hai na, if you really want something, then destiny conspires you towards it.

The first IAS officer in the country to win an Olympic or Paralympic medal… must sound good, isn’t it?

Not just IAS, I’m probably the first bureaucrat of any kind and service. People usually get into government jobs after winning Olympic medals; I did it the other way round. So at least my medal will break the social myth that one cannot be good in sports and studies. It’s a myth that really needed to be broken.

But how much did you find it difficult to balance both?

It’s not very difficult. Everyone can do more than one thing in life. It’s just about how much focus you have in your job and what else you want to pursue. So if you pursue something for three hours a day with a lot of passion, you can excel in it. People can do multiple things in a day, provided you focus on time management properly.

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Monday, October 18, 2021