Former India shuttler Dipankar Bhattacharjee
Former India shuttler Dipankar Bhattacharjee
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New Delhi: The Olympics was a wholesome experience for India's first badminton players at the Games.

It went beyond results inside the court as participation at the extravaganza, among other things, also meant an opportunity to dine with Carl Lewis and share tea with Steffi Graf. Basically, being mesmerised by the who's who of the sporting world.

Almost three decades have passed but former India shuttler Dipankar Bhattacharjee still can't forget the adulation that followed him after he qualified for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

It was the first time that badminton was introduced in the showpiece and Bhattacharjee was among the first three shuttlers from the country to make it to the Olympics.

"Getting the chance to represent India at the Olympics is the biggest experience of my life. Being a part of that history-making moment was special," Bhattacharjee, who had also qualified for the 1996 Olympics four years later, said.

"I became the first Olympian from Assam and that was appreciated by the people and the government and I was suitably recognized and given a good send-off for the Olympics. I still cherish those few months, those were great experiences."

Bhattacharjee, along with the other two shuttlers, Vimal Kumar and Madhumita Bisht, had started Indian badminton's Olympic journey which got better with Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu earning two medals in the last two Games.

"I had started winning all the tournaments in the country in 1991 and towards the end, I had become the number one seed," said Bhattacharjee, a three-time national champion.

"Beginning in 1992, I participated in England, Swedish Open and French Open and I performed well and got into world ranking and that helped me to qualify. It was a great journey where I played 6-7 tournaments and I was 38 in the world then."

Bisht, who had become the first female badminton player from the country to compete at the Olympics, remembered the struggles of being a shuttler in those days.

"There was not much exposure and no sponsors in those times. We could play just two international tournaments in a year. So I went with a begging bowl to get sponsors," Bisht, who has won 27 national titles in an illustrious career spanning 22 years, recalled.

"In those days, you needed to be in the top 40s to qualify. My ranking had slipped to 60. But I reached the quarters in Korea and Asian Badminton Championship. My ranking improved and I made it to the Olympics. So it was an interesting journey."

While Bhattacharjee reached the pre-quarters in 1992, when he lost to the then world champion Zhao Jianhua, he went down to Haryanto Arbi at Atlanta four years later.

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