Hyderabad: London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal’s open-top bus ride, on Tuesday, went awry at the airport itself after the overloaded vehicle broke down.
But that did not deter the enthusiasm in her hometown as thousands lined up to welcome the shuttle queen.
“It’s an amazing feeling… It feels nice to be back with a medal… I am happy to keep my promise,” Saina told mediapersons at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy. Saina was flanked by coach Gopichand and father Harvir Singh.
“I was an ordinary girl… But thanks to the support I got, I am an Olympic medallist today. The sacrifices I made bore fruit. First, I want to thank Gopi Sir, then my dad, without whom I am nothing. Papa, this medal is for you,” Saina said as the packed room applauded.
“When I was standing on the podium, I thought of the toil, those early morning practice sessions… You don’t get an Olympic medal on a platter. You have to earn it,” she said.
Asked about her future plans, she said: “It depends on how you progress. I played a 33-year-old in the quarter finals. As long as I am winning, I will continue.”
Although badminton brought only one medal from the London Games, Saina said that the Indian players are fast becoming a force to reckon with.
“In Beijing I played in the quarter finals, this time I have a bronze. Kashyap played in the quarter finals, Jwala (Gutta) and V Diju played good matches. I think the team are getting stronger,” she said.
Talking about her semi-final loss to world No. 1 Yihan Wang, Saina said: “I think the strategy was wrong. In fact, we did not plan well. Gopi Sir had told me to peg her back and play long rallies. I will try to figure out what mistakes I made.
“Of course, she is the world No.1... So, she has some good qualities. Next time, we will figure it out better and try to do well.
“I saw people dying to get an Olympic medal. Now, though the feeling has sunk in, I was jumping in joy when I actually won the bronze. I am actually speechless whenever I think of it. It was a great feeling,” Saina said.
“I was crying for two hours after the semi-final loss to Yihan. It was terrible for me because I was so desperate for the gold. But once Gopi Sir told me about the importance of the bronze medal play-off the next day, I recouped myself and started focusing on that. I am glad that his words of wisdom paid off so well,” she said.
Saina’s mentor and chief national coach Gopichand said though Saina has already achieved a lot by winning the Olympic bronze medal and the Super Series tournaments, she has a long way to go as she is only 22 years of age.
“This journey has been wonderful. It had its ups and downs. But we never let it go. Saina really pushed herself hard over the months.
“Saina got her confidence back and when it mattered, she really pushed herself. She did not attend any media conference, endorsements in the last few months, just to ensure that even a single day of training is not missed,” he said.
Asked about the controversy of some badminton players ‘throwing away’ matches, he said the incident was strange and unfortunate as it affected the chances of some Indian players.