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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Saina changes Bejing heartbreak into Olympic bronze

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Star shuttler wins elusive medal

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World No. 5 Saina Nehwal gave India its maiden Olympic medal in badminton.

She won the women’s singles bronze after her opponent Xin Wang of China broke down with a knee injury after taking the opening game.

Wang retired after winning the first game 21-18.

Nehwal, ranked fifth in the world, became only the second Indian woman to win a medal in an individual Olympic sport, after weightlifter Karnam Malleswari at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Wang, a former World No.1 and current No.2, hurt her knee when she landed heavily on her right knee following a jump smash.

She had it taped up and went back on court to smash a winner and take the first game, but collapsed on the second point of the second game, and promptly conceded. The score was 21-18, 1-0.

From a heart break in Beijing to the bronze medal in London — the first for India in Olympics badminton, shuttler Saina Nehwal has come a long way in four years.

The Saina of 2012 is a matured and feared opponent.
In fact her journey from Beijing to London has been that of sheer hard work, grit and determination compared to ‘conquering’ the Great Wall of China.

She worked hard on her game, especially the mental part, against the Chinese domination.

She wasn’t comfortable against top-ranked Chinese players. But when she took the court against Xin Wang, Saina was determined to break the jinx, drawing motivation from her win over Wang at the World Super Series final last year.

The 22-year-old Hyderabadi may be elated at getting the medal, but she did not get into any exaggerated celebration since the medal came in a way she never wanted to.

Saina’s celebrations were missing. She hugged Wang to offer her sympathy and quietly walked off the Wembley Arena in a sombre mood, with India’s third medal at the 2012 Games.

But smile on the Olympic podium summed up her feelings as it has not been a smooth ride to the Olympics.

After winning three Super Series events in addition to the Commonwealth Games gold in 2010, Saina hit a rough patch.

Last year she managed just one title — the third-tier Swiss Open Grand Prix gold after which she lost several tournaments as she could not find her form.

Her off-court problems also took a toll on her game. She had misunderstandings with national coach Pullela Gopichand that led to her below-par performance. Later, she had to withdraw from several tournaments due to an ankle injury that took several months to heal.

After all these setbacks, she regrouped herself single-mindedly in pursuit of her goal — an Olympic medal.

Her relations with Gopichand improved ahead of the Olympics and the combination started working wonders.

She won the Swiss Open Grand Prix Gold in March followed by the Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold in June. A week later she won her third Indonesia Open Super Series Premier in the buildup to the London Games.

The queen of Indian badminton has almost as many gold medals under her belt as her age, including several Super Series events and the Commonwealth Games gold.

Saina is also a recipient of the country’s highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award which she won in 2010. Apart from being honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2009, she was also conferred India’s fourth highest civilian award, the Padma Shri.

Saina will receive a reward of Rs.1 crore from the Haryana government for her bronze.

Though Saina lives in Hyderabad, she has got the reward under the category of sportspersons from Haryana since her family hails from there.

Meanwhile Andhra Pradesh celebrated the fact that two of its residents, Saina and Gagan, had won Olympic medals, with Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan and Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy both congratulating Saina for winning the first Olympic medal in badminton for India. (Another Andhra-ite Karnam Malleshwari is also a successful Olympian).

“I still can’t believe that I have won a medal,” Saina Nehwal said after the match. “I never believed that India could win a medal in badminton because the competition is so tough. It is a dream come true for me”.

“I had trained hard and there was a lot of expectation. I initially thought that Wang was just taking rest as she was tiring out, but then I realised she was injured. It’s sad that she got injured, but I was confident of beating her as I was coming into rhythm”.

“I had never won a match like this before. May be, the medal was written for me. I have always wanted an Olympic medal and to see India’s national flag going up at the podium,” she said with emotion.

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