The first person PV Sindhu ran to after winning her Bronze medal match on Sunday was Park Tae Sang. The Korean coach’s shout after the last point was the only sound in the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza other than Sindhu’s roar after the Indian closed the match out 21-13, 21-15. Park Tae Sang then had an inaudible exchange with Sindhu, before gesturing towards the centre of the court, reminding her that she was yet to acknowledge her win.
Speaking on Park Tae Sang a day after becoming India’s first woman with two Olympic medals, Sindhu said, “I have known him for a very long time, from back when he was with the Korean team. He is a very sweet, kind person. We had a common dream for the last one and half years. He was literally in tears (after the match). I went over to him — this was his effort also. My mind then went blank for 5-6 seconds, then all the emotions came to the fore together.”
For her Bronze medal too, Sindhu credited her Korean coach, saying it was he who motivated her after the disappointment of her semifinal defeat to Tai Tzu Ying.
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“I was really sad and upset (after the semi defeat). But Mr Park told me we have another chance. He told me there’s a lot of difference between a bronze and a fourth place. When I woke up the next morning, I was again ready to give it my best,” she said.
A first-time experience for me: Park Tae Sang
For the 42-year-old Park Tae Sang, Sunday’s win was a redemption of sorts as well.
In the 2004 Athens Olympics, he had been knocked out at the quarter-final stage in Men’s Singles. Despite having two mixed team bronze medals at the Sudirman Cup (1999, 2007) and an Asian Games gold medal in 2002, Sindhu’s bronze was a first taste of Olympic success for him.
He said on Monday: “This is an important moment in my coaching career because as a player and a coach I never won an Olympic medal before. This is a first for me.”
“Sindhu was already a big star, I cannot take credit for her success,” he laughed.
Sindhu’s win has kept her coach busy.
“I am still receiving constant messages. On Instagram, every second there is change, change, change (rapid gestures to show quick scrolling through notifications). This is the first time I have experienced something like this. Thank you, India,” he said.
The best part for Park, however, is that he will finally be getting back to South Korea. “My daughter is three years old. Since last February, I have seen my family for 13 days. My wife is asking me to come back to Korea, I have promised my daughter I will soon return,” he said.
“Don’t forget you’ll have to come back to train me,” Sindhu said with a laugh, which was promptly followed by a long comical groan from the coach.
On communication and eye contact between points
On being asked about the number of times Sindhu was seen looking at Park Tae Sang — who raised his hands in assurance each time, even though his face was impassive behind a mask — during her match against He Bingjao, the shuttler said her communication with him is one of the best things about their partnership.
“It’s true we have a lot of eye contact during my matches. We have practised for a long time together, this was also what that practice was about. Every time we had eye contact, I knew how to play the next point,” she said.
However, her coach had a different take on how they were communicating during the match. “I was shouting in the middle of Sindhu’s rallies. I was saying, ‘Don’t do this, this is not what I taught you’,” he said, laughing. Sindhu too joined in the laughter.
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While Park has had a big role to play in improving the defensive part of Sindhu’s game, he said his biggest contribution has probably been towards strengthening her mentality. “‘Aaraam se’ is one phrase I have learnt,” he said.
Korean badminton players are known to be masters at retrieving smartly, that being another part of Sindhu’s game which has improved under him.
The other big cause of pressure for the coach on Sunday was on how to improve on a silver. He did that by ensuring that the bronze medal was not lost.
“Sindhu has always been a very powerful player. All opponents know her style by now, they prepare for her strong smashes. But her defence was superb in this tournament,” he said.
Have learnt a lot from each coach: Sindhu
Since 2017, Sindhu has been training under different coaches — Indonesian Mulyo Handoyo, Korean Kim Ji Hyun and finally Park Tae Sang — along with training at the Gopichand Academy. Despite this, when Sindhu moved to full-time training sessions at the Gachibowli Stadium in Hyderabad with Park earlier this year, it was widely reported that she had ‘parted ways’ with Pullela Gopichand.
The star shuttler reiterated on Monday that there was never any “controversy” there. “I have learnt a lot from each of my coaches. I still carry all of them with me,” she said.
“We moved to training at the Gachibowli Stadium before the Olympics because the size of the indoor arena there is like the one at Tokyo Olympics. In the past few months, I have worked on adapting to the drift on the shuttle (because of AC blowers),” Sindhu explained.
On whether she has received congratulatory messages from Gopichand and Saina Nehwal, she said: “Gopi sir messaged me to congratulate me. Saina, no. We don’t really talk that much.”