61 years, 19 editions – Sadhwik-Chirag pair bring home the first badminton gold

Rohit Mahajan in Hangzhou

Celebrations at the end of the men’s doubles final followed suit – Chirag Shetty danced with his shirt off; Satviksairaj Rangareddy jumps around screaming, dancing to bhangra music and takes Shetty in his arms. Shetty threw his racket and T-shirt into the crowd and Rangritty did the same with his racket. No break from routine, there. But the reason they were celebrating was maddeningly unusual — both had won India’s first badminton gold at the Asian Games. The sport’s introduction to the Asian program in Jakarta in 1962 – the first gold in 61 years and 19 editions – was a definite departure from the norm. The world No. 3 pair of Shetty and Reddy created history by thrashing South Korea’s Choi Solkyu and Kim Wonho 21-18 21-16 in 57 minutes as India finished with three medals, including a men’s team silver, in the Asian Badminton event. The South Korean team, ranked 15th in the world, defeated China’s own darlings Liang Wei Geng and Wang Chang in the round of 16, and that inspired the home fans to support the Indians.

A historic 107 medals in the kitty

On the last day India finished with 12 medals including 6 gold (2 each in Kabaddi and Archery; and 1 each in Badminton and Cricket) for a total of 107.

It was Shetty-Rankretty’s fifth title of the year, following wins at the Swiss Open, Asian Championships, Indonesia Open and Korea Open. The last time the Indian men’s team won a medal at the Asian Games was 41 years ago, when Leroy Tisa and Pradeep Khande won bronze in 1982 in New Delhi.

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The tournament was won in straight games, but it wasn’t easy. For one, Shetty was stricken with viral fever three days ago and was far from peak fitness. „But he still managed to play, which shows the character of these boys,” India head coach Pullela Gopichand said. Then, following Friday’s late semifinal, they couldn’t sleep much. „We couldn’t sleep for two-three hours and when I looked at the clock, it was 5 am,” Rangritty said.

„I was awake all night. I was walking from left to right in my room,” said Shetty. „It was exciting to play in the final.”

The Koreans took an early lead in the first game but Shetty-Rangretty led 11-9 at the break; The Koreans won four points in a row to make it 13-11 before the Indians mounted a thrilling 22-shot rally that ended with a Shetty winner. Things looked bleak with the Koreans leading 18-15, but the Indians switched gears – scoring six points in a row to win the match.

With the second game close, India took a four-point lead into the break at 11-7. After that it was a cat and mouse game and the Indians never really caught on. India finally had six match and gold points, of which the Koreans saved one before succumbing.

Gopichand was delighted to win the continent. „The Asian Games, in a sense, is tougher than the Olympics and there is potential to win medals in both these events,” said the head coach. Their ability was never in doubt – but winning gold in China was something no one could have imagined.

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Later in the day, men’s kabaddi defeated Iran to clinch the gold, taking the day’s tally to six golds and bringing the curtain down on India’s most successful Asian run.

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