Olympian shuttler Aparna Popat and Olympian shooter Anjali Bhagwat, who are part of the six-member jury for the Sportstar Aces Awards 2022, reflected on India’s glorious achievements in 2021 that saw Indian sports expanding its horizon at the global level. 

Speaking ahead of the annual awards ceremony, Aparna stated that P. V. Sindhu’s bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 has given a huge boost to Indian badminton. 

“COVID did affect pretty much all sportspersons, but speaking of the performance in badminton, I think, with Sindhu’s back-to-back Olympic medals, it was a huge boost for the sport because now we’ve got medals at three successive Olympics, with Saina in 2012 and Sindhu in 2016 and 2020. So, for me that was the highlight for sure, but also knowing that our players were resilient and when they got the chance, they came out and performed their very best. And Chirag and Satvik, the men’s doubles pair, have done us extremely proud. I really believe that they played well and deserved to be in the knockouts, but it was just a stroke of bad luck for them. Nevertheless, they’re still young and we hope to see a lot more from them in the future,” said Aparna. 

“Also, getting five medals in Badminton at the Paralympics was incredible. They really made us proud, considering badminton featured for the first time at the Paralympics,” added the ace shuttler. 

Three-time Olympian Anjali said, through the Tokyo Olympics, India has established itself as a multi-sporting nation. 

“We saw how Aditi broke the barrier for golf, and all other lesser-known events at the Olympics were watched and enjoyed by the people on television. I think the new generation has been inspired by that. So, through Olympics, we have shown and established to the world that India is a multi-sporting nation,” she said. 

Talking about the process of selecting winners for the Sportstar Aces Awards, Aparna said, “I just think that because sports has resumed after the COVID pause, we saw some great action across all sports. We saw our best performance at the Olympics and the Paralympics. So, there was a lot to talk about and a lot to cheer about, but I would say that all these successes over the last year have come after a very challenging time for the athletes. And, just keeping that in mind, I think selecting the winners this time around was extremely tough as always, but also very inspiring and gratifying at the same time.” 

Anjali said, “We were looking for best performances, of course, but along with that we were also looking for consistency. You know, a consistent performance speaks for the talent, the time and the nature of that athlete which you really acknowledge, appreciate, and encourage. So, these are the things — consistency, a great performance and steady delivery of performance at that highest level is very important. 

Speaking about her expectations from Indian sports in the future, Aparna said, “First thought that comes to mind is medals. If you see where we have reached, especially with our performances at Olympics and Paralympics this time around, we just hope that we can carry the momentum forward in terms of not only performances and medals, but also creating a very good system so that our athletes can grow at the pace they want to and realise their potential. So, this is something I am hoping for. 

The former World No. 1 Anjali also echoed her fellow jury member’s remarks and said the country needs to nurture young talent in a better way. 

“I’m really looking forward to the Commonwealth and the Asian Games because the spirit is already there, that confidence is there, and we can climb the podium. But I think we have to nurture this talent in a better way. We should bank on the young athletes. I believe that if we guide and nurture the young talent in a proper way at the right time, then there will be no limit to our success,” she concluded. 

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