Bhavina Patel – When the going gets tough


Bhavina Patel lost to number one of the Chinese paddler Ying Zhou in the women’s singles class 4 final. (Photo credit: SAI)

By Ashwin Subramanian

The outstanding performance of Bhavinaben Patel at the Paralympics in Tokyo made the whole country cheer. And why not? She has done the unthinkable and achieved what no capable Indian paddler has ever achieved. In 12th place in the world rankings, she beat her weight and took home a groundbreaking silver medal in the Class 4 category at the 2020 Paralympics.

Bhavina defeated 4 higher ranking players, including defending champion Borislava Peric-Yankovic from Serbia. The only person skilled enough to dwarf them was world number 1 and six-time Paralympic Champion Zhou Ying from China. The Chinese beat Bhavina in both the group stage and the summit duel and looked in a league of her own throughout the event.

Bhavina competes in category C4, which is intended for athletes with a physical impairment to the legs that forces them to compete in a sitting position. She was handcuffed to a wheelchair after developing polio at the age of one. In a game as fast as table tennis, where the ball is thrown back before you blink, a wheelchair athlete needs exceptional hand speed to make up for the lack of movement.

The paddlers should also have a flexible torso to grab balls and the wheelchair dexterity to maneuver into position quickly. And boy, did she show those skills? Bhavina showed great ball placement, especially from her forehand side, which made it almost impossible for her opponents to reach the ball.

Bhavina is from Vadnagar in Gujarat, but after finishing school she moved her base to Ahmedabad. Sonal Patel, another paddler from Ahmedabad who trains with her, is also competing in Tokyo. Sonal could not go beyond the group stage in the individual.

Bhavina is very special. She is a disabled woman and also a competitive athlete. Your life is full of challenges. Overcoming them and winning a medal on the biggest stage for their country shows their indomitable spirit and courage. Congratulations also go to her family, trainer and husband for their constant support. She would surely agree with me if I said that it would not have been possible without team effort.

The author is a national table tennis player who has represented the state of Maharashtra in the Nationals in various age categories including gentlemen. He has also represented India in international tournaments at the age group level. He has also represented Mumbai University at the All-India University Championships and is a medalist.