Badminton is often credited with being the second most popular sport in India. While cricket’s unreal popularity in the country is unrivalled, the sustained success in badminton over the past decade has seen it become one of the most participated sports. Obviously, the biggest factor has been the success at the international stage from the likes of Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth, doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa among others. Also Read - 'To The Greatest Off-Screen Hero': Deepika Padukone Wishes Dad Prakash Padukone on His 65th Birthday With Adorable Childhood Pic
The current crop of shuttlers may have pushed badminton ahead of tennis and football in the popularity charts but the foundation of it was set long back in the 80s when a certain Prakash Padukone, who is celebrating his 65th birthday today, emerged as the country’s first bona fide badminton superstar. Also Read - Throwback: How Prakash Padukone Led Badminton Revolution in India With All England Open Title in 1980
Prakash was born on June 10, 1955 in Kundapore (Karnataka) to Ramesh Padukone who himself was deeply involved in the sport as secretary of the Mysore Badminton Association. Naturally, his was an influence that shaped Prakash’s career. Also Read - Prakash Padukone Shaping Champions of Today And Tomorrow
He was a prodigy, but his success was also a mixture of extremely focused mindset and discipline. At the age of 15, he had won his first national title and in fact, was the undisputed top singles player in the country winning nine straight titles from 1971 to 1979.
In between, he became the first Indian to claim a Commonwealth badminton singles gold in 1978 and was part of the team that clinched the team bronze in 1974.
However, the greatest chapter in Prakash’s professional life was yet to be written. It came in 1980 when he put India on the world map with surreal performances at the international stage as he became the first from his country to conquer the All England Badminton Championships.
However, his win did not came as a surprise, nor was it a fluke to even those who had just started following his career. In the lead up to All England success, Prakash had already showed signs of something special to come with victories against the likes of Rudy Hartono in the Swedish Open final outfoxing former 1977 world champion Flemming Belts in the Danish Open semi-finals. He then beat another star Morten Frost in the final who would famously predict that the Indian could beat anyone.
His prediction came true.
In the final, he was against formidable and top seed Liem Swie King of Indonesia. Prakash went on to outclass King with a dominating 15-3, 15-10 win and also became the world’s number one singles player, again the first in Indian badminton history.
For his achievements, in 1972, he was honoured with Arjuna Award and then was bestowed with Padma Shri in 1982.
When asked to pinpoint his biggest motivation, Prakash told Yourstory, “I just played for my own satisfaction and not to please anybody. I wanted to challenge myself and see how far I could go. That kept me motivated.”
After having retired officially in 1992, Prakash continued his association with the sport in various capacities as the chairman of national association and as a national coach too.
He also established an academy in Bangalore – Prakash Padukone Academy – which has shaped the next generation of Indian shuttlers including the likes of Pullela Gopichand, Ashwini Ponnappa, Aparna Popat, Anup Sridhar, Arvind Bhat, Lakshya Sen among others.
In fact, Gopichand became the second Indian after Prakash to win the All England Badminton in 2001.
His contribution isn’t just limited to producing champion shuttlers. Along with billiards legend Geet Sethi, he co-founded the Olympic Gold Quest. It’s a non-profit foundation with a mission to help Indian athletes win Olympic gold medals.
Every sport has an enduring figure, someone whose impact can be felt across generations and Prakash is certainly the one for badminton in India.
In fact, whenever the history of Indian badminton or perhaps of sports in general is written, Prakash’s name will certainly be etched in gold for sure.
Here’s wishing the legend a very happy birthday.