Heath Matthews, the man who patches up Lakshya Sen’s body, after yet another of his bruising matches, ordered him to go sit in an icebath which is “10 degree flipping cold”, for an additional 30 minutes, after his semifinal at the Commonwealth Games. “It really helps you revive,” Sen starts explaining diligently, before wickedly adding, “but icebaths are a killer. I hate them. So they revive you if you survive them.
India’s Commonwealth Games badminton bunch didn’t run into chart-topping opponents this last dozen days. But playing daily – first the team, then the individual – for a total of 6 medals, including 3 gold, plus two bronze and the team silver, left the whole lot of them more knackered than usual, with coaches and physios working overtime to keep those coiling-uncoiling bodies in tiptop shape to last the campaign through the big R word – Recovery.
“You could see his Malaysian opponent today feeling the cumulative weight of his earlier matches in the second and third games. That extra long ice bath was worth it, though I know no athlete enjoys it,” Matthews would explain. Sen had frayed and rushed and played a rubbish opening set, not allowing his nerves to settle. But as he started his trademark comebacks that hinge on defense, the conditioning qualities of both players began to show.
Contrast therapy demands putting the sore body – prepped to wear his opponents down – through alternate hot and cold water splashes. “You have to ensure you stay warm afterwards and don’t catch a cold,” Sen reminds. The backroom physio workman’s personal tribute to English weather it may seem, but it’s rough on athletes. “The first 5-7 minutes are painful. Then it makes you better,” he says earnestly. “For someone so young, he’s very mature and professional about these things. He diligently follows everything,” Matthews said about the newly crowned CWG men’s singles champion.
After PV Sindhu now Lakshya Sen beats Malaysian NG Tze Yong to win Men’s Singles gold medal.
— ɅMɅN DUВΞY (@imAmanDubey) August 8, 2022
There are dynamic workouts, light tissue rehab, beyond the stretching. His shirt flung into the crowd in celebration – the torso revealed some heavy-duty taping on his shoulder. Post the All England, Sen had trouble with his shoulder, which though currently alright, needs preventive taping, a meticulous process just so he doesn’t break down from one of his snap-action reflex defenses or a smash. “You can’t force an athlete to do this. He has to take responsibility on his own. Lakshya has done that,” Matthews stresses.
The two days after the team silver and individual gold are eat-it-all days for shuttlers. “They are not robots. They need their downtime.” For Sen that has been grilled chicken and potatoes at the famous chain Nando’s.
Brother’s Broth for Satwik
For Chirag Shetty, who felt the intensity of the crowd at the National Exhibition Centre, and the stadium as both encouraging and exhausting because the lights and heaving crowd take a lot out of you, it’s been an Indian lamb preparation he’s stuck to. “We were drained out by the quarterfinals, and then there was the gold to be won. It’s quite draining,” he says.
— Prashant Ghosh (@ParshantGhosh) August 8, 2022
Satwik, whose brother is accompanying him and cooks for him daily, says the CWG medals have always squeezed a lot out of him. “I always get injured after the CWG, after playing in two events. But this time I felt ok.” You suspect it’s the familiar food for the big Beast, whose moods can wax and wane depending on how he felt about his dinner. The brother’s broth sure kept the giant happy and content.
Tough time for Sindhu
Not one to ever be injured, PV Sindhu has an almighty scare after the quarters, where her Achilles heel flared up. Her shadow practice was so lumbered, coach Park Tae Sang had one right fright. “But we had to play the finals,” he recalls. The Korean, who reckons Sindhu will win if she defends well, was worried that if Michelle Li’s slow drops got going, and Sindhu’s lunging leg came under pressure, CWG could turn into a nightmare.
Typically, stretching, rubbing, hydrotherapy – pool water walking – do the trick for the naturally gifted and recovering athlete, but her physio Evangeline wondered if Sindhu would mentally and emotionally cope after the niggle in the ankle against the tricky Malaysian who stretched her to three. Memories of the Olympics match vs He Bing Jiao where soreness after her lost semifinal and the desired turnaround in the bronze playoff had given the team a big scare returned. But Sindhu would plod through on both times,
One of Sindhu’s most outstanding traits is she’s never missed a single day of abs workouts – crunches, side planks, V-ups. “I’ve never seen another woman athlete work so hard. She’s not missed abs even one day,” the physio says.
Golden Girl 🏅!
PV Sindhu beats Michelle Li of Canada in straight games to win gold in badminton women’s singles in style!!🏆💛
Literally hobbling on 1 leg. Congrats Champion. What a brave performance. Just so proud🏸🇮🇳￼￼#CWG2022 #PVSindhu #CWG pic.twitter.com/2Tz2C9eM0Y
— Nisha Dwivedi (@iamnishadwivedi) August 8, 2022
Genetically strong she may be, but the new CWG champ works hard to keep that advantage. She can polish off an entire biryani and work it all off with added hard work, or munch on a Samosa and hours later get onto the court and still win. “Her basic funda is to eat whatever but work harder in court,” Evangeline says. Though she insists the athletes have tremendous control over her cheat day portions.
It’s been eggs and bread at the CWG, though she digs a few favourite Italian haunts, she says, in the UK. “I’ll relax and eat good food. That’s my idea of chilling,” she says after the “superb gold. Once more.”
Fast music has been buzzing in her ears all week, and a local radio station will dedicate a Vijay ditty to her on the morning show the day after (plus Arijit hits for Lakshya Sen), and a few Perry bulls and clothes are on the shopping list.
“She’s dedicated as an athlete. But an even greater person. Like if she goes out for coffee, she’ll casually ask if her staff wants coffee, and actually get coffee for us. She’s a big star, she doesn’t need to do that,” says the physio from Sirbur Kagazhangar in Telangana.
The medals were won by the stars, but resonated through the genuine glee of the support staff who work longer hours, and whose work oft-times starts after the glory-shots are clicked. India teens with shuttlers who’ve been patched back by Dr C Kiran, the travelling trainee. “I’d lost my father to Covid second wave, and then my mother was detected with cancer right before the Olympics,” Evangeline says, explaining how the physical struggles also have emotional offshoots. “It was tough to travel then and leave my mum behind. But when the athlete wins a medal like today, it makes every sacrifice worth it,” she says. A 57 stroke rally played by Sindhu-Michelle Li is testimony to Sindhu’s continuing physical conditioning. She lost the rally, but never fell short at the forecourt lunge.