On this day in 2016: PV Sindhu clinched historic silver medal at Rio Olympics

PV Sindhu was playing the finals of women’s badminton final at Rio Olympics on  19 Aug 2016 and there was a sense of excitement all around. With all ready medal assured Indians were hoping for the colour to be gold and same would have been on Sindhu’s mind as well. She fought like a finalist should and made Marin (then no.1) stretch to her lengths. After losing the match in 3 sets she went across the court to lift Marin as she was down on ground celebrating the victory. The gesture made was an indication that she has no shame in accepting defeat by a better player.

Sindhu was born in Hyderabad on 05 July 1995. She took badminton at age of 14 after getting inspiration from Pullela Gopichand’s feat of winning the prestigious All England Badminton Championship. After learning basics of the game she joined Gopichand’s academy Her father used to drop her to the academy by driving 56 km from their residence on a scooter and she never reported late which showed her dedication towards becoming a better badminton player. After playing at junior level she had her first taste of international level when she competed in All England Badminton Championships. She reached the main draw but lost to Tai Tzu Ying in 3 games.

In Li Ning China Masters she stunned Li Xuerui in three sets to reach the semifinals and from there on everybody knew a star was in making. She won Senior National Badminton Championships in Srinagar that year. In 2013 she defeated another Chinese superstar in Wang Shixian in Asian Championships. She had reached a career-best ranking of 15 by 2013. She participated in World Championships and surprising many big names reached the semifinals to become the second Indian to win a medal in the singles event since Prakash Padukone’s bronze.

In 2014 she repeated the feat and became the only Indian to win back to back medals at World championships. She missed the hatrick of World Championships medal by losing a very close quarter-final match against Sung Ji-Hyun in 2015. Upto this time she had won a commonwealth medal also and many more championships. She suffered a stress fracture in 2015 which kept her out for 6 months but she did manage to qualify in time for 2016 Rio Olympics and she was a strong medal contender for India whether it would happen in reality it had to be seen.

Saina Nehwal had also qualified and so many optimistic had predicted 2 medals also (with luck going India’s way). To keep distraction away Sindhu hadn’t seen her mobile phone for close to three months. The group she was drawn also had Michelle Li (defeated Sindhu at 2014 Commonwealth Semifinals). She knew she had to take it one game at a time. Saina’s exit during the group stages put pressure on Sindhu but she did not allow it to be a hindrance. She won both her group stage matches, defeating Li in 3 sets, to reach the round of 16. She bought her most impressive win by defeating Tai- Tzu Ying in straight sets. In quarters she had another Olympic medalist in Wang Yihan and she defeated her in a closely contested match in 2 sets.

Semifinal was never going to be easy as she was facing the tireless Nozomi Okuhara, till that point Sindhu had defeated her only once with matches going to 3 sets. Sindhu was in very inspired form and won 21-19, 21-10. It was the first time Sindhu had defeated Japanese in straight sets and had become the first shuttler to reach furthest. In final she has pitted against world no 1 Carolina Marin.

The match was decided in 3 sets. Sindhu won the first by taking 5 points in a row at 21-19. But Marin was no 1 for a reason and clawed her way back by winning the second set 21-12 and then went onto win the third by 21  15. Special praise for Marina as coming back after set down to win a final is something only champions can achieve. Sindhu did fall the last hurdle but the Olympic medal did make her the undisputed star of Indian Badminton.

She continues her good run but somehow was losing the finals. She persevered to finally break the jinx in 2019 by defeating Okuhara in straight sets at World championships and became the first Indian to win gold. She is still going strong and when Tokyo Olympics will start she will again be a genuine medal contender. She says “After medal at Rio, she is a lot more confident and feels anything is possible”.

Even after 3-4 years I still believe that evening of  19 Aug 2016 was the only time when a silver medal was much bigger than a bar of gold for 130 crore people.