From surprises to the edge of the seat encounters, Para Badminton grabbed the eyeballs on its debut Paralympic Games at the Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo. Here are some of the highlights.
Coming into the Tokyo 2020 Games, Malaysia’s top Para shuttler Liek Hou Cheah had claimed two titles at the Dubai 2021 and Spanish 2021 Para Badminton International events. He was surely the title favorite and, Cheah continued the momentum in style to clinch the sport’s first Paralympic gold medal.
Taking a sweet revenge, Cheah defeated his Indonesian arch rival Dheva Anrimusthi 21-17, 21-15 for Malaysia’s first Para Badminton medal. Later, he dedicated his medal to all Malaysian badminton lovers.
Cheah’s training stint with Rashid Sidek, the former coach of Malaysian badminton legend Lee Chong Wei, was a major reason behind his success.
China topped the table clinching 10 medals including five gold out of the 14 up for grabs.
Qu Zimo has been a sensation in the past few years, with two World Championships and two Asian Para Games titles and the BWF Player of the Year Award in 2019, and he lived up to his reputation to clinch two gold medals in Tokyo.
Zimo’s men’s singles WH1 and men’s doubles WH1-WH2 titles with Mai Jianpeng were among the highlights for China in Para Badminton. It also showed that the Korean stronghold in wheelchair events has weakened after Zimo defeated Lee Sam Seop in men’s singles WH1 and Kim Jung Jun and Lee Dong Seop in men’s doubles WH1-WH2 finals.
In the women’s singles SU5 final, China’s Qiuxia Yang shocked the top seed from Japan Ayako Suzuki with a comfortable 21-17, 21-9 win.
More gold came China’s way when prodigy and top seed Liu Yutong overcame compatriot Tingting Xu 21-15, 21-15 to claim the 1-2 position in women’s singles WH2 finals.
OKTILA, THE GOLDEN GIRL
After numerous medals in Para Badminton International meets, World Championships titles and BWF Para Badminton Player of the Year Award, Leani Ratri Oktila finally lived her dream. She became Indonesia’s golden girl winning both the two gold medals the country clinched at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Overall, Indonesia finished in 43rd position with 35 medals.
In women’s doubles SL3-SU5, Oktila and Khalimatus Sadiyah took just 32 minutes to defeat the world champion Chinese pair of Cheng Hefang and Ma Huihui 21-18, 21-12.
On the final day, Oktila along with veteran Hary Susanto overcame the challenge from French pair Lucas Mazur and Faustine Noel.
In the singles, however, Oktila fell to her Chinese nemesis Hefang; The latter avenging her women’s doubles loss with the gold.
Nineteen-year-old Daiki Kajiwara emerged the biggest surprise in Para Badminton events when he ended the Paralympic gold medal dreams of Korean legend Kim Jung Jung.
Kajiwara’s medal was one of the two gold that hosts Japan clinched at the Yoyogi National Stadium, and emerged as the star of the final day. The little known Kajiwara, who made his international debut only in 2018, did not have any major result to show before the Paralympics.
What was special in the Fukuoaka-resident’s win was he didn’t drop a game and pulled off a 21-18, 21-19 over the six-time World champion for the men’s singles WH2 gold medal.
Kajiwara wasn’t thinking if he was going to dominate the wheelchair category after this gold medal, he was rather full of gratitude and thankful to everyone who supported him in the journey.
The prodigy has surely raised his profile as a big medal prospect for Paris 2024.
Trailing 4-12, it would need a herculean task to overcome the eight-point deficit. But the tenacious Pramod Bhagat of India rode on his self-belief and experience to make an incredible comeback and level at 15-all before taking the lead. And the rest was history. Bhagat eventually won the men’s singles SL4 final against Great Britain’s Daniel Bethell 21-14, 21-17 in 45 minutes.
The amazing performance from Bhagat wasn’t surprising. The Indian had delivered what was expected from him. It was a result of the ‘hard work’ done during the lockdown which had boosted Bhagat’s confidence. And the four-time World champion yet again showed why he is the best in the business.