Born and brought up in Guwahati, Dipankar Bhattacharjee became Junior National Champion in 1987, the same year he passed his Class 10 and thereafter represented India at The Junior World Championship in 1988. An alumnus of the prestigious Cotton College, he is one of Northeast India’s first national sporting superstars. He represented India in two Olympics. Very optimistic about India’s chances at the Tokyo Olympics, he is expecting a rich medal haul this time from most disciplines.
Excerpts from an interview with EastMojo:
What was your first feeling when you qualified for your first Olympics in 1992?
Dipankar Bhattacharjee (DB): It was a feeling of great relief after the Olympic qualification was announced in May 1992. During the entire qualification year starting April 1991, we played several International tournaments to accumulate world ranking points. At the end of the Olympic qualification phase, there were three contenders from India, Myself, Shri Vimal Kumar and Rajeev Bagga. I overtook both of them in World ranking points in the last leg of the Olympic qualification competitions, the European Circuit in March 1992. At the end of the Olympic qualification efforts, I stood at 38 in the world ranking ahead of Shri Vimal Kumar and Rajeev Bagga. When my qualification was officially announced and all the newspapers in Assam carried the news, my family and I were overjoyed. It was a rare moment and I cherish it to this day. The entire sports fraternity in Assam, my mentors, friends, colleagues and relatives were overjoyed. I was given a befitting send-off for the Olympics by the then Honourable Chief Minister of Assam Hiteswar Saikia.
How was the reception in Assam back then, once you returned from the Olympics? Any special memories?
Dipankar Bhattacharjee: After my return from the Olympics, I was showered with recognition never before seen or heard in the History of Sports in Assam. I was suitably felicitated by the Honourable Chief Minister, Shri Hiteswar Saikia and also by the then Honourable Governor of Assam. I was presented with goodies unparalleled in the history of sports in Assam until then.
I specifically remember the felicitation organised by my Alma Mater, Cotton College, Guwahati in the august presence of the then Honourable Governor of Assam. Honourable Shri Himanta Biswa Sarma, the present Chief Minister of Assam was the General Secretary of Cotton College Union Society then. He was the one who organised the grand felicitation.
What are your thoughts on the current Indian badminton contingent at the Olympics?
Dipankar Bhattacharjee: Our Badminton squad for the Tokyo Olympics is perhaps the strongest so far. P.V. Sindhu is a Gold medal contender. Sai Praneeth on his day can create wonders. Satwik and Chirag have been performing creditably on the world stage and we expect that they will find their touch in Tokyo.
Which other sports, according to you, are prime medal prospects, apart from badminton?
Dipankar Bhattacharjee: The Olympic preparation for the entire Indian team this time has been very focused, despite the pandemic. This is extremely creditable. Govt. of India through its Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India has invested time, resources and energy to prepare our athletes for the grand event, in almost all disciplines. This is the first time that the PMO has monitored the preparation. So, we expect a rich medal haul at the games this time from most disciplines. However, a few names do stand out where prospects of winning medals are the highest:
Apart from P.V. Sindhu in Badminton, we have Neeraj Chopra in the Javelin event, Mary Kom in Women’s boxing, Men’s Hockey team, Saurabh Chaudhary in Shooting, Deepika Kumari in Archery, Mirabai Chanu in Powerlifting, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia in Wrestling.
You have said in many interviews that Prakash Padukone had a big role to play in your professional life. Tell us about his contribution and your relationship with Padukone now.
Dipankar Bhattacharjee: In November 1987, I won my Junior National title in Chennai. In the said Junior Nationals, my semi-final and the final matches were witnessed by Shri Prakash Padukone, who was invited by the Tournament committee as a Chief Guest. His positive observations there about my game inspired me to take up Badminton as a career. After my Graduation, I shifted base and moved to Bangalore in January 1994 to join the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy where I benefited from training under the guidance of Prakash Sir for four years. I dedicate my three National titles in 1994, 1995 and 1996 to Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy. At present, I keep in touch with Prakash Sir off and on either over the telephone or by visiting Bangalore in person.
Which has been your most memorable match?
Dipankar Bhattacharjee: My most memorable match was the 2nd round match against Ib Frederiksen of Denmark at the Swedish Open at Malmo in March 1996. Mr Ib Frederiksen was the former All England Champion. I was unseeded in the tournament and I defeated him in three games. That victory catapulted me in the world rankings and helped me to qualify for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
You live in Navi Mumbai now and have been coaching there as well. Are you associated with coaching in Assam as well? If not, are there any plans?
Dipankar Bhattacharjee: Yes, I am presently residing in Navi Mumbai and trying in a small way to help a few very focused youngsters here. I started an Academy in Guwahati in the year 2006-07 and operated it for 2 years. However, I had to discontinue due to my commitment at my workplace and frequent travels for work coupled with health and logistical issues. Presently, I am not associated with coaching in Assam, although I’d like to associate with the Government of Assam for a long term developmental plan if any.
Can you throw light on your life post the surgery? Any major lifestyle changes?
Dipankar Bhattacharjee: The past 8 years in Mumbai had been very stressful balancing workplace pressures, long travel times and managing Badminton coaching. I have been mostly on my toes running from one mode to the next. In the process, I could get only 4 to 5 hours of sleep at night and sometimes even less. The excessive stress caused health problems on multiple fronts most significantly, it caused the Pituitary Tumour in the brain. Luckily it got diagnosed at the right time and with the help of my employer, Indian Oil, I could manage to get the services of one of the best Neurosurgeons in the country, Dr B.K. Misra of the Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai. The tumour was successfully removed surgically on 3rd February this year and by God’s grace, I am doing fine presently.
I have opted for a transfer to a very modest workplace closer to home so that I can save on travel time and devote some more relaxed time at home with family while focusing somewhat on Badminton coaching. I have stopped watching Television news on contentious issues and stopped involving in issues that I have no control over to make any changes. I have distanced myself from everything that causes unnecessary worries.
What would be your message to young athletes in Assam?
Dipankar Bhattacharjee: Throughout my playing career I have realized one thing very profoundly that the most important aspect of an Individual’s success is Self-Belief. This has been true for most athletes from Assam and the North-East and that includes me. We used to look at athletes from other parts of the country and the world with too much awe. This is self-defeating and in most cases, it causes inferiority complex in our athletes despite their possessing the requisite talent to excel.
So my message to young athletes in Assam is to work on mental toughness and self-belief apart from working hard on developing skills and physical fitness. If required they may take professional help in this regard.
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