When the Indian badminton contingent landed in London for the 2012 Olympic Games, not many bargained for a bronze medal which Saina Nehwal eventually won. Nonetheless, it will give a fillip to the sport back home.
The world No. 4 became the first Indian shuttler to win an Olympic medal, though before the Games there were doubts whether Saina would be able to overcome her mental block against the Chinese opponents.
For Saina, the road to the semi-finals was pretty smooth except for the resistance given by Tine Baun of Denmark in the quarter-finals. The Indian ended up beating Baun 21-15, 22-20 to set up a semi-final clash with her Chinese nemesis Wang Yihan. Saina tried hard but Wang overpowered her 21-13, 21-13.
In the play-off match for bronze, Saina was trailing world No.2 Xin Wang 18-21 after the first game, when at the start of the second game her Chinese opponent retired because of a knee injury thus giving India its first ever Olympic medal in badminton. It’s debatable whether Saina could have bounced back with one game down, but that is how sports are and Saina won’t mind it. India certainly didn’t.
Another player to impress was Parupalli Kashyap, who became the first Indian men's player to reach the quarter-final stage of an Olympics. Although Kashyap should consider himself touch unlucky when he clashed with the formidable Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia. Kashyap took an early lead in the first game and everyone thought an upset was in the offing, but top seeded players like Lee don't give up easily and bounced back to win 21-19, 21-11.
The achievements of Saina and Kashyap should change the scenario of Indian badminton, with the expectancy that many youngsters will be keen to take up the sport. At earlier Olympics, badminton for India was never considered to be an event where the players could grab medals, but Saina's bronze should act as a catalyst for the future.
The other three shuttlers – Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponnappa and V Diju - failed to make a mark in their respective team events. The pair of Jwala and Ashwini was unlucky not to make the knockout stage by missing out on one point difference. On the other hand in the mixed doubles, the duo of Jwala and Diju also failed to qualify for the knockout stage.
Moreover, this Olympics saw badminton marred with match-fixing controversy where teams allegedly under-performed to get favourable draws. The international badminton body reacted and swiftly disqualified top four teams, which gave Jwala and Ashwini a hope of getting another chance, but that didn’t happen.
India should not hold on to this limited laurel for long that they have managed to achieve in badminton at the London Olympics. Rather in this four years' time before the next Games, the Indian shuttlers should be thinking beyond bronze.