Positivity, staying grounded, hunger: The champion's mindset in Pramod Bhagat - Hindustan Times

Positivity, staying grounded, hunger for more: Deciphering the champion's mindset in Pramod Bhagat

ByAratrick Mondal, New Delhi
Dec 07, 2023 06:47 AM IST

Pramod Bhagat, in an exclusive chat with Hindustan Times Digital, opened up on the crucial aspects of his remarkable career

There was a certain humility in his voice as he greeted with a simple 'hello' followed by a chuckle over his next statement: "Maine suna aapko mere baare mein bohot sawal puchna hai (I heard you have a lot of questions about me)." The anxious mood over a first-time conversation instantly changed to a lighter note. It is rare to come across an athlete with such modesty who has 15 medals to his name across categories in three major championships - the Paralympics (gold), the World Championships (five gold, two silver and a bronze) and the Para Asian Games (two gold, four bronze). But the 35-year-old, whose treble of golds at the three Majors stands unparalleled in para-badminton, admitted that it has been one of the very qualities behind his remarkable career.

Along with a gold medal in men's singles SL3 event, Pramod Bhagat also won a bronze each in Men's Doubles SL3-SL4 and Mixed Doubles SL3-SU5 events, making it his most successful Asian Para Games.
Along with a gold medal in men's singles SL3 event, Pramod Bhagat also won a bronze each in Men's Doubles SL3-SL4 and Mixed Doubles SL3-SU5 events, making it his most successful Asian Para Games.

Although modesty, as he emphasised repeatedly, allowed him to stay grounded, keep working more on his training and stay away from the outside chatter amid the plethora of record-breaking shows, there was an aura of confidence as well as he shared his champion's mindset through the course of the telephonic interview. "Olympic title toh mein defend kar hi lunga (I will surely defend my Paralympic gold)," he said when asked about his preparation for Paris, for which he is yet to qualify, but he quickly explained the importance of self belief which he feels, tends to push his limits further during training.

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Ahead of the start of the inaugural Khelo India Para Games in New Delhi, which will showcase the incredible talent of over 1350 athletes from across 32 states and Union Territories, Pramod, in an exclusive chat with Hindustan Times Digital, opened up on the crucial aspects of his career. Here are excerpts...

Q) This is the first time Khelo India Para Games is being hosted. How important is it for budding para athletes across the nation?

Khelo India actually started in 2018 and the results have been impressive. The government of India has been constantly trying to create opportunities for budding athletes across the country through these events and other schemes. In Para Games, we don't really get many opportunities, especially at the grassroot level. The junior players are devoid of such chances. So Khelo India Para Games will hopefully create those opportunities and give them a platform to prove their mettle.

Q) In the wake of India's stellar show in Asian Para Games, where they recorded their best-ever medal tally of 111 (29 gold, 31 silver and 51 bronze) to finish fifth , do you think the concept of Khelo India Para Games should have happened a bit earlier?

Definitely. But then again, progress tends to happen slowly and steadily. And probably the government is right in their way of looking at things. Just because they started an event earlier doesn't mean it will turn out to be successful. That is why I feel that while Khelo India started earlier, they monitored the progress of it and then introduced the Para Games concept. All the athletes are already excited about the Games, that is what I have heard. I was too but had to skip the competition because I have an Paralympic qualification event in Dubai which will start around the same date as Khelo India Para Games. But I hope I can participate in it in the future and be part of the experience.

Q) Coming to your performance, you registered your best ever Asian Para Games performance in winning a hat-trick of medals (gold and two bronze). Talk us through that?

I won't call it best though because I was looking for at least two gold medals. Yes I successfully defended my singles title from 2018. Yes I was satisfied with the bronze in Mixed Doubles as well. But I was disappointed with the result in men's doubles because we were the No. 1 ranked pair for almost a year. I was actually looking forward to a gold medal, but that is what sports is, some days are good, some days are bad. But overall, I'm happy knowing that my three days are a significant part of India's tally of 111 medals.

Q) You have six golds across three major championships. Do you feel invincible at times?

The more you stay grounded, the better you perform. The moment you get distracted by all these things, you tend to lose focus over your aim. That is what I believe and that is what has been the secret behind me winning all these medals that you mentioned. Every time I prepare for big tournaments, I start right from the beginning because every athlete in this world is putting in their best efforts and people should keep learning through each step of the process which subsequently helps them get better by the day.

Q) You have been on the international stage for years now and have overcome every possible hurdle. Before heading to Tokyo for the Paralympics, you had injured your ankle, yet you went on to win the gold. In the recent Asian Para Games, you were down 13-18 in the deciding game, but managed to bounce back. Just to pick that champion's mindset, how do you tend to stay calm and not allow yourself to panic?

My will to keep learning is what I feel separates me from the rest of the players. I have never allowed myself to be content with six gold medals or whatever. I still remain focused on working more on myself and giving my best performance at every tournament I play. Yes I do believe that I am the best and this very thought tends to motivate me a lot.

I remember before leaving for Tokyo, which you mentioned, I had twisted my ankle. The first thought that came to my mind was to withdraw from the Paralympics. But the physio did a wonderful job then and I was back. In fact I believe, something bad tends to happen before you are served with good news. That is what kept me going throughout that competition. Same happened in the Asian Games as well. When I was 13-18 down, all I wanted was to keep fighting and not try something different then. And the moment my opponent (compatriot Nitesh Kumar) conceded 4-5 points, I managed to bounce back and win. My mantra is to be positive, no matter the situation, and that is what puts me ahead of the rest of the field.

Q) You know what it takes to defend a major title. You did it in the World Championships, then in the Asian Games. What are your thoughts on the Paris Paralympics next year?

I will definitely defend my Olympic title (laughs). Sometimes you need to think in this way which will subsequently push yourself to work even harder for it in the training sessions. The Paralympics starts in June. So we are currently planning to leave for Paris in January so that we get a good three months of time to get acclimatised to the weather there and undergo our training, then return to India and train even harder for the remainder of the period.

Q) You talked about the Khelo India Para Games at the start of this interview. You yourself have played at the biggest stage for over a decade now. How have you seen the scenario of Para Games changing in India through these years, in terms of facilities, recognition...?

When I had started playing in Para Games, neither did I get any recognition from the state nor from the centre. I remember when I had become the world champion in 2009, I felt I would get a grand welcome back home with people cheering and appreciating my efforts, but when I returned, I was greeted and felicitated in a small room. Even when I went to my hometown, the reaction was the same. For a moment I felt, 'what is the use of being a world champion'. But things have changed a lot these days. Celebrations in India begin right from the moment we win the medal. Media is more involved now and promotes Para sports, the government tends to announce cash rewards, athletes then meet the Prime Minister as well. In 2009 there was nothing, no recognition at all. I feel the involvement of PM Narendra Modi in this aspect has been immense, of wanting to promote Para sports, give equal opportunities to the players, TOPS scheme, Khelo India Games...the list goes on. Also with PM Modi meeting these athletes to post their achievements or in some cases even personally calling them, it tends to automatically shift focus on Para sports. The difficulties we faced back in those days are all bygones now, times have become easier now for the youngsters.

Q) Coming to your personal journey, I heard you had picked cricket before being introduced to badminton.

It was only natural I feel. Back in those days, in 2000 if I'm not wrong, cricket was the only popular sport. I didn't even know there was a sport called badminton. Of course I didn't go the distance, but at district level I did play cricket. I was in fact introduced to badminton in 2002. But again, there were no thoughts about picking up the sport on a professional level. Three years later, I got to know there is something called Para badminton.

Q) Your next goal?

When I started playing badminton, I wanted to win a gold medal. I did that in the World Championships, then in the Asian Games. The next target was of course the Olympics where I luckily managed a gold medal (smiles). The target still remains the same, this time defending my gold medal and making my country proud. And I am willing to put all my hardwork into it.

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