‘I am super-stoked’: Manasi Joshi on Para-Badminton making its debut in Tokyo next year 

Manasi Joshi: A world champion that knows no bounds

The Indian star, 31, sets her sights on competing at next year's Paralympic Games in the doubles category.

‘Time to welcome Para-badminton to the Paralympic Games’

"I am super stoked," Manasi Joshi said on Para badminton making its debut at the Paralympic Games next year.

The Para badminton athlete was among a host of athletes around the world who participated in the all-day Instagram live event held by the International Paralympic Committee to mark the one year to go countdown for the Paralympic Games.

"When in 2014 we came to know that badminton [will] make its debut at the [Tokyo 2020] Paralympic Games, all para badminton athletes were very, very enthusiastic. I think it’s a great chance for the sport, and badminton is a very inclusive sport.

“I am very happy that I am representing this sport and also representing India,” she said.

A year ago Joshi scooped the gold medal in the women’s singles at the Para Badminton World Championships in Basel, Switzerland, but although she is currently ranked world no.2 in the SL3 singles category (as of June 2019), she won't be able to participate in her preferred category at Tokyo 2020 given the discipline is not included in the Paralympics schedule.

However it doesn’t put a full stop on her chances of sealing qualification in other categories.

"Para badminton has 22 events which are being played currently, and out of them, only 14 events are going to be part of the Paralympic Games," she explained.

"Unfortunately, my singles event (SL3) and in which I won a gold last year, is not included.

"Definitely I am sad, but I have now chance of qualifying through women’s doubles and mixed doubles. Though I am little lagging behind in my ranks, I am hoping [to] get a chance to qualify and represent India at the Paralympic Games.”

“He’s like a very good partner for me…”

In her quest to qualify for Tokyo 2020 next year, Joshi is training hard with her mixed doubles partner Rakesh Pandey - a combination she believes will be successful.

"I train with Rakesh 'bhaiya' (an affectionate term for an older brother in India). I sometimes go and train with him, we trained together for sometime last year as well, and we communicate a lot before any tournament too.

"I play SL3, he plays SU5. You know, ‘bhaiya’ is very experienced, he understands the game very well, and he’s like a very good partner for me."

‘My life changed completely since winning gold’

It is often the case that an athlete's life is changed forever after achieving good results, and that is certainly the case for Manasi Joshi.

After winning gold last year, Joshi says the doors of opportunities have since opened for her and she is now recognised on the streets of India.

"My life has changed completely," she explained. "People started following me on social media. My sponsors have been very happy, everyone around me has been happy.

"It changed my life," she added.

Time in Lockdown, Ganesh Chaturthi

In March, India was among dozens of countries to go into lockdown to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite obvious restrictions to normal life, Joshi was able to continue her preparations for Tokyo 2020 - albeit in different surroundings.

"Since the lockdown started, I haven’t been to a badminton court,” Manasi said. "I have started to feel rusty, and I think I need some time regain my form and get back to the top."

While access to a badminton court is still not possible, Manasi isn't going to let anything stop her from training.

“[During] lockdown, I trained at home by doing some wall practice. I have also been working on my fitness. I am trying to acquire new skills too – running is one of them," she added.

However, playing on the badminton court is not the only thing she had missed. Speaking on how she celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi (a Hindu festival), Manasi said:

"It feels sad not to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi this time due to pandemic. Since there are restrictions and public gathering is not allowed, it was a no celebration this time. But we had made our own Ganesh idol at home, my younger sister made it with some ‘aata’ and ‘haldhi’, which are eco-friendly too."

‘Don’t forget corona is around…’

Manasi has inspired thousands of fans with her motivational talks, and had an important message to share with the Games now just a year away:

"I just wish people don’t forget corona is still there, don’t risk your life by going out, stay indoors and stay safe. Also, follow Para sports!” she said with a huge smile on her face.

"Support our athletes - it’s just one year to go for the Paralympic Games."