Bhavina one step away from Paralympic TT gold

As Bhavina Patel prepared to leave for the airport to board her flight from Ahmedabad to Delhi to Tokyo, her longtime trainer, Lalan Doshi, told her: “iss bar kuch alag hone wala hai (some something different will happen this time). “

Singles success at major international events had largely escaped the 34-year-old table tennis player from Gujarat; whether it was seventh at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, 5th at the 2018 Asian Paralympic Games, or 11th at the 2018 World Championships. It had to be “different” at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, where Patel came in. final with a 3-2 victory (7-11, 11-7, 11-4, 9-11, 11-8) against the world number one. 3 Miao Zhang, the Chinese against whom she had lost all her previous 11 meetings before Saturday.

Having already secured a bronze medal and a first medal for India at this Friday Paralympic Games, Patel will fight for gold in women’s singles class 4 against another Chinese, top ranked Ying Zhou. , who beat Patel in their opener on Sunday.

The world No.12 Indian’s giant death race to the final that knocked out four higher-ranked players on the rebound may have come as a surprise to many, but not to Doshi.

“I knew the amount of work we put into it,” he said.

This work did not stop even during the forced lockdown of the pandemic last year, when most of India’s elite athletes were forced to play the game of waiting. For Patel, he picked up speed.

With a table at home in Ahmedabad and an old robot, Patel didn’t miss a single workout during the almost year-long phase, switching to twice a day with Doshi, also a resident of Ahmedabad, doing exercises. daily visits to her home. . “There was no distraction. Containment may have been a bad time for everyone, but for us it was the best time. We took the opportunity to significantly improve his game, which is presented in Tokyo, ”he said.

Daily pairing sessions ran from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., alternating between high and low intensity training. Every aspect of Patel’s game has been worked on and different game models have been developed for different players. “We looked at each of his possible opponents in Tokyo. We worked on his attack, his defense, his placement, his control, his reflexes, his serve, his returns. We designed different models from which she could earn a point, ”Doshi said.

Earlier this year, the old robot gave way to a brand new advanced robot: the Butterfly Amicus Prime provided with funding from SAI-TOPS. “We’ve had multi-ball sessions using this which has been very helpful,” Doshi said.

Patel started his days at 4 a.m. with yoga and meditation sessions. “The whole setup at home helped her during the lockdown,” her husband Nikul Patel said from Tokyo. “It hit about 3,000 bullets on average per day. She didn’t stop even one day.

Patel said the uninterrupted hours and days of his game over the past year and a half have left him feeling out of place, even against the more established players across the table at Tokyo. “Everyone says that beating a Chinese at table tennis is impossible. But I proved today (Saturday) that anything is possible, as long as you want it to happen, ”she said.

“It’s just his state of mind and his self-confidence,” Doshi said. “She struggled so much, especially early in her career, that these traits are processed automatically in her system.”

It was Doshi who gave a professional touch to the recreational paddler that Patel was in her early days at the Association of the Blind (BPA) in Ahmedabad, where she moved from Vadnagar to become independent while being confined to the wheelchair since the one year old. old. After winning his first domestic tournament in 2007, Patel had to move up to the international level, which meant pumping in more money to participate and travel for the tournaments.

His father Hasmukhbhai, who owns a small cutlery shop in the village, could not afford it. “They took out personal loans so that she could travel for tournaments in Asia and Europe,” Nikul said. “The first few days were difficult for her. But if you have a strong will to do something, a road will always open. And Bhavina had that will.

Much of the foundational work on this route was done by BPA, one of the largest disability NGOs in India with 16 campuses spread across Gujarat. In addition to contributing financially to her training and international travel, BPA enrolled her in a computer course at her industrial training institute. In 2017, Patel got a civil service job at ESIC (Employees’ State Insurance Corporation) in Ahmedabad.

“She came from a village where even going to school was a big challenge because she was in a wheelchair. But somehow she managed to finish it before moving to Ahmedabad, ”said Bhushan Punani, general secretary of BPA Ahmedabad. “But even in her wrestling days, she kept going. She would go abroad to compete on very small budgets. But she didn’t let him affect her; she won it with her determination.

Of the three table tennis tables on its premises, the association has reserved one reserved for Bhavina and Sonal Patel, another BPA paddler who made the Tokyo Cup. “This international standard table cannot be touched by anyone other than these two players and a training partner,” Punani said. “It has been a long journey of over a decade with Bhavina. But we never imagined that she would one day be in the final of the Paralympic Games. “

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