PV Sindhu becomes Badminton Colossus with Bronze at Tokyo Olympics
Five years ago P.V. Sindhu had become India’s first female athlete to win an Olympic silver medal at Rio. However, a Gold medal contest carries with it the assurance of a silver. A play-off for bronze, followed as it does with the gut-wrenching disappointment of a defeat to contend for Gold, also burdens an athlete with the demon of a stark realisation. Victory will ensure plaudits. Defeat will unleash a wave of criticism.
It was the proverbial now or never moment. Sindhu would either return from an Olympics with a ghost that will haunt her. Or a piece of metal she will cherish forever. In that moment, Sindhu wasn’t in a very different place to Usha all those years ago – on the starting blocks of among the most significant races of her career.
Five years ago in Rio, despite her thrilling run to the final where she beat three higher ranked players and almost a fourth in the summit clash, Sindhu, by her own admission, was still very much a work in progress. Her two World Championship medals had established her credentials as a player of skill and talent, but the journey had only just begun.
Rio, she hoped, would catapult her towards building a strong professional career. Since then, the landmarks have been ticked off, one by one. Sindhu has won medals at each of the last three World Championships, including a Gold in 2019, taking her tally to an unprecedented five for an Indian player. She’s won Asian and Commonwealth Games medals, Superseries events, reached multiple finals and entrenched herself in the rankings as among the leading players in the world.
Over the course of the week in Tokyo, Sindhu produced a sequence of performances that emphatically established how a fully formed player has emerged from the raw material on show at Rio. She cruised through her first four matches without dropping a game, dispatching, among others, a player who had beaten her in their last meeting and a home town star ranked higher.
In these matches, Sindhu revealed a range of stroke-making that has added lustre to her established explosive method of play. Drop shots emerged from the back of the court, her rivals repeatedly flummoxed at her ability to deftly place the shuttle at different angles in the forecourt.
The polished deception on her forehand flank produced sublime flicks both cross and across court, leaving opponents unsure of the direction the shuttle was coming in. Power and nuance. Fire and Ice. Madness with method.
Trickery is one of the calling cards of the elite practitioners of this sport, and Sindhu repeatedly unveiled an unexpected counter at critical junctures of contests. Her wingspan had always been an inbuilt advantage and in Tokyo, not only did she continue to employ it as an aggressive tool, but also as a defense mechanism. On several occasions, Sindhu extended rallies that appeared settled and earned points that would otherwise fall in favour of her opponent.
In essence, Sindhu lived up to the tag of pre-event medal contender. Supremely fit and having put in the hard yards with a new coach — Korea’s Park Tae-sang, she arrived in Tokyo at the peak of her powers. It took the wizardry of a rival who used a magic wand masquerading as a badminton racquet to overcome Sindhu in the semifinal.
With less than a day to recover, from both the emotional scars and physical rigours of that deflating defeat, she returned to that all-or-nothing bronze medal contest against a southpaw who led their head to head comfortably. In less than an hour, P V Sindhu had become only the second Indian athlete in history to win two individual Olympics medals.
“I just can’t compare both of them because in Tokyo people were saying, ‘Yes, we want this’,” she added. “There’s a lot of responsibility about playing for your country, and yourself. So it is a lot. But, I just kept calm and composed and got that medal back.”
So ends another sojourn for this remarkable young athlete, only for another to begin. Inevitably, talk of a third shot at the elusive Gold in three years in Paris, when she won’t be 30 yet, has already begun. For now though, it’s time to put the feet up for a bit and bask in the well-deserved adulation that awaits her.
Perhaps, when the noise settles and there is time to catch a breath, P.V. Can Sindhu and PT Usha recreate that picture from twenty years ago? And maybe, just for the sake of that frame, they could hold up this hard earned bronze together?
TEJASWINI PAGADALA is an independent communications consultant. She has previously worked with the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister’s Office as the Communications Officer where she has written English speeches for the CM, managed English media communication from the CMO and handled social media accounts of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and the Government.