The Manjit-Dingku duo sparked change

When you think of Manipur’s encounter with the sport, conditionally enough, the montage of judokas, boxers, and weightlifters overwhelms your thoughts; badminton is a distant thought. Considered fixed in southern India, the bloom of badminton is regionally concentrated, one might think – but Manipur’s bubbling and hectic duo of couples Manjit Singh Khwairakpam and Dingku Singh Konthoujam are ready to dilute this idea and put Manipur in place badminton card.

Messing with Bluetooth, camera angles and a tried and tested internet connection, Manjit and Dingku settled in for an interview with The Bridge, before debuting in their first senior class. Asian Team Badminton Championship (BATC 2022) sit in different rooms of their hotel in Malaysia.

All 20 held on the 21st of 2022, the neighbors became friends who became partners – Manjit and Dingku, who hail from the far northeast, are now in the big leagues, ready to fight in senior badminton, side by side, and can ‘they don’t contain their anxiety (which is with the pandemic!) and mostly the excitement as they go out on the field for the Indian national team.

With the latest sensation for singles in badminton, Meiraba Luwang Maisnam who just won the Iran International Challenge 2022, a pair of former U-19 India no. 1 Manjit and Dingku bring the badminton revolution to Manipur with their exploits – both nationally and internationally. .

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From winning the U-17 title at the 2016 All-India Junior Tournament to winning the highest medals at the U-19 National Tournament or even the quarterfinals of the Asian Junior Badminton Championship in Jakarta 2018 – Manjit and Dingku have risen and are coming!

Rising to the fore without a coach or even a suitable wooden training ground, Manjit and Dingku were destined to play badminton. Although they are now training at the Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad and have recent semi-final races at the Bahrain International Challenger 2021 to look back on, BATC 2022 will be their first major event on the senior team.

Coincidentally badminton

Dingku Singh (left) and Manjit Singh (Source: Dingku Singh)

In Ningthoukhong, a village in Bishnupur County in Manipur, Manjit and Dingku grew up with only a lone cement badminton court to test their badminton skills in the ditch, without a proper trainer to even train them. Playing more with instinct than design with their first days of sports, Manjit and Dingku’s rise to become No. 1 U-19 doubles in the country, there is no shortage of hopeless fairytale rides.

“We didn’t have a special coach growing up. There was a former national team player, Oinam Santosh, he’s like an uncle from our village … but he also had another job, so he wouldn’t be regular … and if only we were alone, ”Manjit recalls.

“We learned whatever we knew ourselves and became runners-up in the 2014 U-13 national! It was a coincidence,” Dingku shyly mentions, suppressing a smile.

But where did it all start for these two boys in love with sports and obviously their own bromance?

Having known each other since high school, Manjit and Dingku, although initially belonging to different circles of friends, gradually merged with each other on the field – through cricket, football, marbles and, of course, badminton.

As their main catalyst, Manjit’s father, Ranjit Singh, himself a former athlete, saw a badminton dream for Manjit and Dingku and the seeds were planted – put Manipur on the badminton map, take Ningthoukhong to better days and hopefully chase the elusive Olympic medal .

If you don’t dream big, then is it fair to dream at all?

“My father loves sports. The more he pushed us towards academics, the more he would encourage us to play sports. He was also an athlete – running, football, volleyball, whatever. He was willing to do anything for sports and the way he cares because we were both amazing, ”mentions Manjit, still amazed at the kind of hard work his father, a civil servant, put in for them.

“We don’t have a real field in our village. Just one cement field that’s not even ideal for badminton,” said Dingku Singh, named after the late Dingko Singh, a boxer who won a gold medal at the Asian Games.

Indeed, at home, things are harsh for Manjit and Dingku, who may be rewriting the badminton story little by little, but have not yet received any special benefits or sponsorships from the state. Regardless of their achievements, little has changed in Manipur. Apart from their MLA, Govindas Konthoujama who has recently supported them, Manjit and Dingku are now functioning without any sponsorship.

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But that’s not the only problem at home.

“Whenever we are in our village today and want to play badminton, teach interested children from everything we have learned so far, even now we have to wait for the seniors to stop playing … they just keep their time, don’t let the children play, a little sad regret Manjit.

Spot newcomers and fire a dream

Manjit (in the hinterland) and Dingku (near the net) in action (Source: Ritu Raj Konwar)

Driven by this rookie of luck and raw talent, Manjit and Dingku soon came on the radar of international Chief Justice H. Gyaneshwar in late 2015, during the state championships. Impressed by their mutual understanding on the field, Gyaneshwar was the one who addressed the head national coach, Pulleli Gopichandu with these two new discoveries from Manipur.

Since then, Manjit and Dingku have not looked back, they joined the Pullela Gopichand Academy in April 2016, where they continue to train.

“When we first arrived at the Academy, it was a moment of awe because we saw our favorite seniors playing in front of us. There were Saina didi, Sindhu didi … Srikanth bhaiyya, Satwik-Chirag, Sumeeth Reddy …,” both they ran their dazed memory back through the years.

Fine-tuned for couples from the start, Manjit and Dingku’s focus has never been on singles, and whenever they fight each other, it’s obvious that their differences are still unresolved.

Specially trained by Arun Vishnu at the Academy, beginners in Hyderabad found a strategy and method for their field madness with racket and shuttle, and improvements immediately began to show.

“We play a lot like Satwik-Chirag, you can say. While I’m close to the net like Chirag, Manjit takes care of his back like Satwik … moreover, our coach also saw it in us and we stuck to it,” Dingku said.

Hovering over the best Indian couple in the Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty pairs, Manjit and Dingku find a lot of similarities with them.

“When we joined the Academy in 2016, they (Satwik-Chirag) weren’t so trained and polished … but they currently have experience, nutrition, mental strength and they put in so much hard work to be World No. 8 Couples, they are today.” said Dingku.

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On the threshold of transition, now from junior to senior, Manjit and Dingku may have accepted badminton as fun and a game without too much serious thinking, but now, once in the middle of international competition, Manjit and Dingku are also holding the Olympics dreaming brightly in their hearts.

‘Manipur can dominate Indian badminton’

Manipur’s badminton talents – Manjit Singh (left), Meiraba, coach Rinky Singh and Dingku Singh

It was not an easy road for Manjit and Dingku – their journey was full of obstacles. Even if the state is willing to recognize their talent, the state still somehow doesn’t have full support. Honestly, there has been a boom in Manipur since Manjit-Dingku and Meiraba started winning medals in national and international competitions, but the battle is only half won.

“What we desperately need at home is a foreign coach for upcoming players, finding talent at the basic, district and state levels … The Manipur Badminton Association needs to take the job more seriously and do it in a more structured way,” Dingku helpfully suggests.

“We are physically very ready over the years of growth – since we are from the northeast, our build is a little different,” Dingku told The Bridge. While training with Indonesians at Gopichand Academy, Manjit and Dingku learned a lot, much like Indonesians, in terms of structure and build, the duo pointed out – which also needs to be considered for the future of Indian badminton.

“Currently, Manipur has a lot of players who come to badminton, but unfortunately, we still do not have adequate training facilities in our country, although it has so much success … our village still does not have a wooden court,” said Dingku, hoping to their appearance at the Asian Team Badminton Aid Championships.

Manjit and Dingku (Source: TIE)

“I’ve talked to a few junior players and learned that the schedule they’re currently training in is a complete mess … there’s an SAI coach, but there’s no proper setting to hone talent at home,” Dingku enlightens.

Interfering, Manjit continues: “We also need to have a structure. That will help Manipur grow as a strong state in badminton and that we can dominate India, I’m sure,” he suggests.

Slowly but steadily dragging Manipur into the national badminton map, Manjit and Dingku are on a mission bigger than themselves and hope that their performance at BATC 2022 will only serve as further proof of their talent and draw attention to distant corners of the country. quite unknowingly, he prepares himself with untapped talent.

The Asian Team Badminton Championship 2022 starts on February 15 in Selangor, Malaysia, and the Indian men’s national team is in Group A with defending champions Indonesia, South Korea and Hong Kong. As a qualifier for the Thomas & Uber Cup final in May, BATC 2022 is a key event and Manjit-Dingku will hope to make the most of it.

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