The 33-year-old, who is the current Asian and world champion, has qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics in two events – men’s singles SL3 and mixed doubles SL3-SU5 with Palak Kohli.
SL3 refers to minor standing or lower-limb impairment, while SU5 is for players with an impairment of the upper limb.
“I have been waiting for this day ever since I started my professional journey, and it is also the only medal which is missing from accomplishments…,” Bhagat, who was affected by polio at an early age, told PTI in an interview.
“Currently I’m in my best shape with the strongest mindset on the planet. My coach and trainer worked a lot on me. I had a few drawbacks which I’m slowly working on.”
The Indian badminton contingent will leave on Friday for Tokyo and Bhagat will be a prime contender for the gold medal at the Games, where para badminton is making its debut.
“I don’t want to disappoint the 1.4 billion people who are behind me. My aim is to get India’s first gold in Paralympic badminton. I will be aiming for two gold, one in singles and one in mixed doubles,” said Bhagat, who has so far won five medals at the world championships.
“Also being No. 1 adds a lot of pressure of delivering at the world stage. I’m using that as motivation for myself to perform. We are hoping to win at least 3-4 medals for India.
“My full focus is on the tournament and how to give my best. I’m also keeping my mind clear and not stressing or thinking about anything. It’s going to be very big for me as this is one medal which has eluded me.”
Bhagat had claimed two gold medals at the Dubai Para Badminton tournament in April when the sport returned after a year-long break due to the pandemic.
“Dubai was like a litmus test for all of us as we were playing a tournament after almost a year. It really tested us as irrespective of how much you practise, matches are a different ball game,” said Bhagat, who won the singles gold and also paired up with Manoj Sarkar to clinch the men’s doubles gold in SL4-SL3 category.
“The last few years have been really good for me as I feel I am at my prime and playing very well. I am working towards maintaining that and practising very hard and also evolving.”
The Paralympics, just like the Olympics, will be held in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic and Bhagat said the health crisis will always be in the back of the mind.
“The virus has created havoc not just for me but for everyone. There will always be a worry about the virus jeopardizing the entire campaign but I am not thinking about it.
“Right now my focus is to play my best games in this tournament.”
How difficult was it to train for the Paralympics with the pandemic putting the country under lockdown?
Bhagat said, “Initially the whole scenario was very uncertain. With training facilities and courts shut, it really became difficult to train and stay fit, but slowly the government made the necessary arrangements for us to at least train at home.”
“Once the courts were open, we were back in the bubble training for the Paralympics.
“It was good that at least we got some game-time at the recently concluded Dubai Para Badminton Tournament. That really helped us to gauge where we stand when it comes to match practice and on-court stamina.”
So, will it affect the performance?
“It can if you let it; hence, I have blocked those thoughts and just thinking about my game. During the lockdown, I not only worked on my physical strengths and stroke-play but also focussed on mental wellbeing,” he signed off.
Badminton action begins on September 1 in Tokyo.