Throughout a memorable Olympic and Paralympic summer, we have been giving you exclusive access to the badminton squads through our Tokyo Diaries.
The latest to reflect on an unforgettable time is Dan Bethell, who became Great Britain’s first ever Paralympic badminton medallist when he took silver in the SL3 category.
Now back home, Bethell gave us his insight into his Paralympic journey.
The build-up and life in the village
The first lockdown in 2020 slowed my preparation down. Like the rest of the country we were locked down in our homes, and weren’t allowed to go into the training facility initially.
In June, I was doing speed training in the garden with a coach on zoom, and had turned my parent’s spare bedroom into a gym. It was all very ‘home-working’, just to keep my conditioning up.
We went back into the training centre last summer and haven’t had any Covid interruptions to training since then, which was important for my preparation.
When the Games were postponed last year, it was disappointing, but obviously the right decision. Nothing is bigger than people’s lives, and the way the world was in at the time… even the Olympics and Paralympics couldn’t have gone ahead.
It was actually a good thing for me though, even though it was disappointing initially. The delay gave me a year to get better. I was better physically and mentally for the Games this year.
We worked really well as a team and I was confident flying out to Tokyo.
It was an amazing experience. I went in with an open mind, because I had spoken to a lot of athletes who had gone to previous multi-games events. They always say it is like nothing else, but I went in expecting the unexpected.
Being in and around, the athletes’ village was amazing. I wasn’t sure what to expect because of the restrictions, but it was a great atmosphere.
Seeing all the athletes, and guys like Johnny Peacock and Hannah Cockroft who I had watched five years earlier, was great. Suddenly I was in the same dinner hall as them and staying in the same block of flats.
The volunteers and the organising committee were also brilliant. Japan did such a good job, and they were so enthusiastic that it made the Games feel special, even without crowds.
That environment was a dream to walk around and experience. GB’s team success doesn’t come by accident.
On the ground floor, there were lots of TVs set-up and every night they had different sports on. All the athletes sat around watching other people’s sports and cheering on their teammates. To be part of the atmosphere and camaraderie was extra special. You could bond really quickly with everyone, even those you may never have met before.
Even before the medal, I was just really proud to be a part of it.
Just to be the first player to play badminton for Paralympics GB at a Games was amazing in itself.
The first time I walked out on court in my opening group match, I didn’t even think about that. It was only when people started asking me about it after the match that I realised.
I’m glad I didn’t think about that beforehand because the fear of losing would have gone up and put extra pressure on me.
Playing the home favourite [Daisuke Fujihara] in the opening game meant I was so nervous when I stepped onto court, and went 4-0 down straight away.
I felt good in the warm-up but once the umpire said ‘play’, I suddenly realised I was at the Games. I had to work my way back into the match, but knew I could do it.
Thankfully, I won the match and got off to a great start.
Off the court I had a few special memories, particularly a little photo shoot we did as a team near the Olympic rings and the Paralympic logo.
It was a beautiful evening, with the sun setting, and created memories I’ll never ever forget. That will always stick with me.
Medals up for grabs
On finals day, playing the semi-final and the final together was tough. It all happened so quickly.
If anything, it meant I was more nervous for the semi-final than the gold medal match. Physically and mentally, the semi was really tough. I just had to get myself ready as best I could and I managed to come away with the win.
Obviously, playing in the final was still such a proud moment for me.
I felt like overall my game overall went pretty well but Pramod (Bhagat) was outstanding. That is the best he has ever played against me, his attack was devastating. He just didn’t let up.
I never like to lose but I felt I did all I could. My preparations were good and I played well on the day. If I do that and someone is better than me in the final, I just think fair play to him.
It has just given me that extra drive to turn silver into gold come next time.
To be standing on the podium was such an amazing moment, because I am such a big fan of both the Olympics and the Paralympics.
I have watched both for years, as long as I can remember, and whenever I saw athletes on the podium from any sport, I always thought that was so cool.
So for me to actually be there was an amazing feeling and still feels strange. To be the first to win a badminton medal for ParalympicsGB was something else. It was a historic thing that I never even thought of going in.
Krysten (Coombs, my teammate) winning a bronze medal was also amazing. We all work so hard as a team, so for him to take home a medal was also a big highlight for me.
It has all been quite surreal and the last few days have been crazy since coming back.
I was in Sainsbury’s the other day and had a couple of people recognise me. For some strangers to come up to me and say ‘well done’ was mind-blowing and it all feels a bit of a blur.
I think it will take a bit of time to properly sink in.
But I can already see how hopefully the sport will continue to grow off the back of these Games, and we can increase that profile.
I want to go again in Paris 2024. Already I can’t wait to hopefully have another chance in three years’ time, but will be a long road until then.
Now we go back into training, and have the World Championships coming up at the end of this year, Covid-permitting.
This whole experience will help going into Paris, because as the saying goes ‘you don’t lose, you learn’ and I have already taken so much from this Paralympics.
I have an idea now of what a big multi-sport championships is like and think that help me going forward to Paris. Hopefully I can win gold there.
In terms of the wider sport of para-badminton, I really want us to capitalise on this summer and inspire the next generation of players coming through.
I have already had quite a few messages coming through from people with disabilities who have watched me and now want to take up the sport.
That is really special for me, because I was one of those guys who looked up to para-athletes, thinking I want to be one of them. For me to be now be getting those messages is really humbling, but also lovely.
Back when I started in 2010, the sport was very amateur and more of a social thing. Now it is far bigger, we’re playing in bigger arenas. We have had some great exposure and now just need to capitalise on it.
I can’t do this forever, so when both myself and my teammates leave para-badminton, we want the sport to be in a better place than how we found it.