(Photo: Badmintonphoto)
Para badminton wrap-up 2021
Date: 12/31/2021 12:05 PM
Published by : Bobby Griffin
In a year that continued to suffer through a global pandemic, two international tournaments remained in the calendar, and the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games showcased Para badminton like no other event in history.

The Third Fazza Dubai International was postponed from March 2020 to the first week of April this year. 147 players entered the somewhat diminished tournament by usual standards, as Covid-19 continued to play its part in the abilities of worldwide travel.

With fewer top players in attendance, it gave Europe the chance to collect ten gold medals from the twenty events that were scheduled, and crucially for those itching to test their mettle before an upcoming Paralympic campaign, a chance to perform on a real stage after a year with lacking opportunities. Team France picked up five of those titles, with Lucas Mazur notching a triple gold, whilst Switzerland took a one-two in the WH1 women’s singles as Cynthia Mathez gave way to teammate Karin Suter-Erath. 

A final test in Spain for Paralympic Hopefuls
By the middle of May, Tokyo 2020 contenders landed in Cartagena to feature in the yearlong delayed Spanish International, the final qualifier for the Road to Tokyo qualification. Somewhat contentious, the event was absent any athletes from China or Indonesia and only those with an elite sport exemption were present from Japan and Malaysia. 

Once again there were opportunities for Europeans to excel themselves, and taking full advantage were Lenaig Morin and Faustine Noel (FRA) in the SL3-SU5 women’s doubles, Jan-Niklas Pott and Katrin Siebert (GER) in the SL3-SU5 mixed doubles, Krysten Coombs (ENG) in the SH6 men’s singles and Meril Loquette (FRA) in the SU5 men’s singles; all who clinched vital ranking points to secure a place in the Summer Games.

Badminton makes history at the Paralympics
A year’s delay to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games did nothing to dampen the anticipation of what marks history for badminton. The sport was included in the Paralympics for the very first time and debuted alongside Taekwondo at Tokyo 2020.

Unlike able-bodied tournaments with five separate events, Para badminton was allocated just 90 athlete slots across 14 medal events, showcasing the six sport classes which mix at times to facilitate certain doubles events. This provided spectators with an exciting array of disabilities and unique skills.

Frenchman Lucas Mazur lead Europe’s charge into Japan. Watching Mazur drag himself between points in the men’s singles SL4 semifinal against Tarun Dhillon, it looked unlikely that the Frenchman would extend his challenge into the final. Having willed himself past Dhillon, Mazur looked in worse condition in the final against Suhas Yathiraj. Struggling to stay on his feet, the Frenchman somehow kept himself in the contest and outplayed Yathiraj. 

He nearly repeated the feat in the mixed doubles final as well, as he and Faustine Noel ran Hary Susanto and Leani Ratri Oktila (INA) close in the opening game before the effort proved too much in the second. For sheer doggedness, there was none to beat Mazur at the Paralympics as he secured a Gold in SL4 singles and a Silver with Noel in the SL3-SU5 mixed doubles.

Two medals for Team GB add to Europe’s tally
Half-court singles fans were treated to the final everyone hoped for in the Sl3 men’s event. England’s World number two Daniel Bethell faced off against arch-rival World Champion Pramod Bhagat (IND) in a repeat of a final’s day matchup we have become all too familiar with.

Bhagat’s confident assertions even before the Paralympics on the certainty of winning gold in men’s singles SL3 might have sounded like cockiness, but the maverick 33-year-old knew what he was doing. He was putting himself in a spot so that he knew he couldn’t afford to make a mistake and embarrass himself. Not only did he fulfil his prediction, he did it in characteristic style – with a display of control, precision and great opportunism.

Bethell collected a second silver for Team GB and Europe, which left England’s Krysten Coombs the chance of collecting the very last medal available that the entire Paralympics had to offer. Coombs was up against Brazilan Vitor Tavares, show famously came from nowhere to beat Coombs in the World Championships quarterfinal in 2019.

That result was the springboard Tavares needed to push on in training which started to reflect in his performances and the rankings, in fact that result put Coombs’ chances of even qualifying for The Games in doubt as he needed a bi-partite application to feature in Tokyo 2020 as World Champion teammate Jack Shephard had already made the cut.

Coombs scraped through the group stage with Hong Kong’s Chu Man Kai, as Shephard was evicted on a points difference. Chu confidently beat Tavares in his semi-final and Coombs lost out to India’s Nagar Krishna who took gold. 

The tension was palpable as the two men faced off in their fourth ever meeting the Paralympic bronze-medal play off. The ‘bad end’ did nothing for Coomb’s nerves as he started the match poorly, but a huge turnaround in game two saw him fight back mentally and physically. He held on for the win in an emotional finale.

Agonising fourth place 
Other bronze medal play-off matches didn’t go a European way, providing a sad end to Paralympic campaigns. Norway’s Helle Sagoy was confidently beaten by China’s Ma Hui Hui in the SL4 women’s singles. Turkey’s Emine Seckin was also picked apart by her opponent Yuma Yamazaki (JPN) in similar circumstances in the WH2 women’s singles bronze medal match.

In wheelchair doubles action, Suisse pairing Karin Suter-Erath and Cynthia Mathez had a tough battle against Thailand’s Sujirat Pookkham and Amnouy Wetwithan but lacked the firepower to undo the world number three pairing. In the SL3-SU5 women’s doubles, French pair Faustine Noel and Lenaig Morin faced Japan’s Noriko Ito and Ayako Suzuki but couldn’t quite match the pace of SU5 Suzuki who dominated the match.

The Pearl of Africa remains
The Lugogo Indoor Stadium plays host to the 2021 Uganda Para badminton International in late November, whilst we wait for the 2022 BWF calendar to be announced.

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