As PV Sindhu went down on her knees in sheer joy upon beating Nozomi Okuhara of Japan in the women’s singles semi-final of the Rio 2016 Olympics, there was once again reason to celebrate for India, after Sakshi Malik gave India the first medal these Summer Games.
A few days back, just as Kidambi Srikanth beat Jan O Jorgensen of Denmark in the Round of 16, he punched his chest in joy and then immediately ran across to a familiar face on the sidelines. Pullela Gopichand. A thread that weaves both the players and many across India.
No one can claim to have as much influence in Indian badminton or one sport across the spectrum as ‘Gopi’ does. And there’s good reason for him to have that influence.
A former All England Champion and World No 4, Gopichand has had an influence in shaping Saina Nehwal too before she switched coaches and started working with Vimal Kumar as she looked for a complete focused trainer.
Not just that, Gopichand runs an academy that helps shape numerous badminton stars of tomorrow as the man himself continues to prove the myth of the past two decades wrong that India can’t have world beaters. Just as he did when he beat the then World No 1 Peter Gade in the All England semi finals of 2001 before beating Chen Hong of China in the Final to become the first shuttler since the legendary Prakash Padukone to lift the biggest title in Badminton.
By Gopichand’s accounts, that win came a little too late in his career – at 28. He felt it would have done his career a world of good if it had come a little year but that is when he struggled with injuries and with a non-existent coaching programme – something he has changed or at least improved with his academy.
Now in his capacity as India’s national coach, he has to play the role of a superhero to have his eyes everywhere if all his wards are in action – as it has happened on quite a few occasions. He now has overseen the development of a number of India’s brightest shuttlers, Saina, Sindhu, Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap – who couldn’t qualify for the Olympics after string of injuries hurt his chances, HS Prannoy to name a few.
Away from the side of the court, at his academy, the mantra of determination and hard work is instilled early with sessions in the early morning hours followed by repeated work in the afternoon or evening. Something which has been inculcated by his daughter Gayathri too – who is the current U13 champion and a bright prospect of the future.
Come Friday evening India time, Sindhu will need to be on top of her game to beat the quick-as-a-flash Carolina Marin of Spain in the Final but she will have a familiar face and voice on the side to guide her – as he always has.