As far as sport is concerned,Kerala has always been known more for athletics and football. For furure reference,add badminton as well to that. On Thursday,Sunil Haseena Prannoy,an 18-year-old shuttler from Thiruvananthapuram,stepped up to the victory podium to receive his silver medal at the Youth Olympics,having defeated the top seed on route to the final.
Aiming for gold,Prannoy lost 21-15 21-16 to Poodchalat Pisit of Thailand. Falling behind 5-16 in the opening set,Prannoy was always playing catch up with his opponent in the 40 minute final.
Prannoys association with badminton began a decade back. As a boy he would go to a local badminton court to watch his father P Sunil Kumar play the game. It was Kumar who taught him the basics of the game and today had every reason to say with pride in a way I was his first coach.
Prannoys shuttler dreams,though,almost amounted to nothing. Prannoy won his first title age 9 at the district level. He then won the same title at the state-level. Prannoy went on to win the state-level championship in the U-13 and U-16 categories.
But then he hit a wall that was not of his doing. His training partners started to concentrate on their studies after being unable to make a mark beyond the state-level championships. It became a struggle to find partners to play with.
To solve the problem,Prannoy started coaching children younger than him. He is indebted to all of the children junior to him. But for those little players,Prannoy would have been forced to abandon the game, said Kumar,an ISRO employee who himself played badminton at the inter-departmental level.
But at best these measures were stop-gap in nature. Realising that the dearth of competiton in Thiruvanananthapuram was stifling his sons career,Kumar decided to send his son to former All England champion P Gopichands badminton academy in Hyderabad.
During the Junior World Cup help in Pune in 2008,I presented the case of Prannoy before Gopichand. His career had faced a dead end in Thiruvananathapuram for want of serious players. Gopi instantly accepted my plea to give training for Prannoy, he said.
The partnership has undoubtedly been a fruitful one. Before his Olympic success,Prannoy had emerged victorious at many international events,including the junior world championship,the German open and Iran open.
Kumar believes his son always had talent and that he only needed a good coach to unleash his true potential. He had completed only three month professional training under the first coach when he bagged the gold medal at the district level. This prestigious win at the Youth Olympics had come after Prannoy has completed only one-and-a-half years coaching under Gopichand.
Some way to go yet
Gopi,who is also the coach of Saina Nehwal,believes that the Kerala shuttler has achieved a lot and was all praise for his attacking game as well as the maturity he displayed in the tournament. Both Prannoy and Sai Praneeth(the other Indian shuttler) are good talents,and should move into the seniors now and can be looked at as the future, he said. But Gopichand also tempered his praise saying,He has a strong backhand but theres a lot of areas that he needs to sharpen as he moves up into the seniors.