I had gone into the Sydney Olympics in 2000 with thorough planning and lost,which was a crushing feeling. So,I was very,very determined that I will never go into any tournament with planning. I headed to Birmingham with no expectations whatsoever. Id been training at SAI,Bangalore with a bunch of juniors. It was sheer hard work,and an unbelievable physical workload. I decided along with my coaches Ganguly Prasad and Leroy DSa that we would take it one match at a time at the All England. Playing the semis and finals of the event itself was a big thing,but if Id stopped there it wouldnt have counted for much now.
The biggest match of the All England would be the semi-final against top-seed Peter Gade,then No 1. Id never beaten him before and it invariably turned out to be the toughest.
We wrestled with four match points before I won. Id never played a final of that stature either,so it was another big match,but Id planned well for Chen Hong and knew I needed to tire him out. The predominant and first emotion after winning the title was that of relief,since it had been such a physical and mental grind. It was torture with my body aching in various places. So just after the title,I felt relieved and relaxed.
Throughout the tournament I stuck to a routine,and Im quite impressed by how I managed it everyday. Id have breakfast at the same time,order the same food at the same restaurant,and listen to the same music.
Some detailing goes into every tournament. And itll help when I go there as coach now,because you know what exactly to think and what not to,and know just the mistakes you shouldnt make. I knew it was big. But it looks bigger when I look at it now. My career would look very different without the All England title.
I also remember the things I didnt do I didnt read newspapers,didnt talk to friends,or take calls. In fact,after winning the title,I spoke to my mom after 6 hours,which was 1 a.m London time. Players are different now and they smartly manage everything even while fiddling with their cell-phones. But they know the bottomline that the perspective and focus is always on the game. Its important you have role models,whove achieved the highest that there is to achieve. It just makes your goals achievable,and aspirations believable. I was lucky I had Prakash sir to look up to,and something big to aim at.
(As told to Shivani Naik)