We’ve all heard of Mariyappan Thangavelu, Varun Singh Bhati, Deepa Malik and Devendra Jhajhariya. These Paralympians did the whole nation proud at the 2016 Rio Olympics by bagging four medals ( 2XGold, 1XSilver, and 1XBronze). However, do you know that the ‘Deaflympian of the Century’ is a former Indian Badminton player? Parupalli Kashyap, Pulella Gopichand, Prakash Padukone are names we have all heard of umpteen number of times. However, ever heard of Rajiv Bagga?
Rajeev Bagga, India’s ace badminton player, lost his hearing forever after a severe bout of meningitis at the age of 12. Fortunately enough, he was born sports-loving family, with almost all members having played sport at some level. His father, Brigadier S R Bagga, was an active racquet sportsman. His mother was also a state-level badminton player. His brother and sister are also sportsmen. His brother played at the national level in squash, and also defeated him in a key badminton finals in 1981.
Initially, Rajeev used to prefer playing squash. In 1981 he won the sub-junior title in squash (at age 13). Subsequently, however, he moved to badminton where “eyesight would be more effective than hearing.” He played in the Junior nationals for several years, and won the Maharashtra state level championship five times in a row, and eventually became national champion in 1991.
His father taught Rajeev the virtues of camaraderie and sporting spirit. those virtues evidently reflected so distinctly in his personality during his illustrious career. Rajeev has been consistency personified when it comes to winning gold medals. He fetched a total of 12 golds in the four Deaf Olympic Games respectively in 1989 (New Zealand), 1993 (Bulgaria), 1997 (Denmark) and in the 2001 Deaf Games in Italy.
At 18, he represented India at the World Deaf Games in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1989. The World Games were later rechristened to IOC’s Deaflympics. He swept the men’s singles and doubles gold medals and put India on the top – a position that India would sustain for two decades. His debut at the Christchurch World Games opened up the avenue for deaf sports in India in a large way.
After beating Prakash Padukone at the Indian national championships, Bagga went on to reach the main stage of the 1990 All England Open Badminton Championships. He defeated the Korean player Ahen Chang in the third round of qualification – the only deaf person to achieve this distinction. He won the national men’s singles title twice, in 1991 and 1992. He also won the men’s doubles in 1990. He has been the captain of the Maharashtra badminton team during the 1990s. He also has represented the Indian national team in BWF (Badminton World Federation) championships. The tournaments Commonwealth Games, Thomas Cup etc. Overall he has made 60 appearances in the 1980s and 1990s.
THE MOST SUCCESSFUL INDIAN BADMINTON PLAYER?
Rajeev was selected as the ‘Deaflympian of the Century’ by the Committee International des Sports des Sourds’ (CISS), also known as International Deaflympic Committee.
Rajeev Bagga hold a unique record. He is the only deaf elite sportsman to win laurels in both the international Open as well as the deaf circuit. His record in Deaflympics is staggering. He continues to be the only sportsman to have reigned at the top of a sport at the Olympics for 20 straight years.
A role model in the world of badminton, Bagga is a Chhatrapati Shivaji and Arjuna Award(1993) winner. Laurels are not new to this genial sportsman, who was at the helm of Indian badminton, winning prestigious events individually, as well as helping India reach greater heights at a time when badminton was not the high-profile sports it is today.
NOW A BRITISH SHUTTLER
Rajeev is currently a UK citizen and lives in Coventry, England, where he is badminton coach. His wife, Rita (née Mistry), is also a deaf badminton player. They have a son ,Rajit Bagga, who is not hearing impaired.
Experts of the game were astonished to watch a 42-year-old Bagga, playing his sixth consecutive Deaflympics in 2009 . He now represents U.K.. He later going down to a 20-year-old Russian player in very close finals of the Deaflympics in Taipei. He continued to be the only deaf player in the 40+ Opens Veterans circuit who was a gold medal winner.
Asked about the existing badminton scene in India, the legend once quipped, “India is on the verge of becoming a badminton powerhouse. I want to tell officials to reduce administration and focus on coaching of different kinds. Give incentives, fund the players and the results will come.