The injury worries have been never-ending in the past few months but national badminton coach Pullela Gopichand on Saturday said he expects at least seven players to qualify for the upcoming Rio Olympics.
“We will start training in the next couple of months (after the qualification round). We expect to participate in five events, but we will focus more on training now than the tournament,” Gopichand told reporters on sidelines of an event.
K Srikanth, P V Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponnappa, and Manu Attri are among the players likely to make it to India’s badminton team to the Olympics, scheduled to be held in August this year, he said.
“In the last few months some of the players have been struggling with fitness problems but they have continued to play because of qualification. Once it is done, then we have a clear four weeks of training, and two tournaments. After that, we will have six weeks to go for that, so we will focus on training,” he said, referring to the injury sustained by shuttler P Kashyap.
“Six-seven weeks of training will set all the players,” he said.
When asked about the prospects of winning a medal in the doubles event, he said given the format “two good matches at the Olympics could ensure a medal for Indian players”.
On the injury of Kashyap, the world number 17, Gopichand said he expects him to recover soon. “It is a part of a sportsperson’s life, but it is heartbreak for him to be injured,” the former ace shuttler said.
Kashyap was retired hurt from the German Open pre-quarters due to a calf muscle injury.
On the performance of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, Gopichand said that new coach Kim Tan Her is “taking care of them”.
The two players crashed out of the China Masters Grand Prix Gold tournament on Friday. “We have a coach who is in place who is travelling with them all the time,” he said.
Gopichand said the performance of junior players raises hope of a bright future for the game in the country. “There are a couple of players coming up in junior ranks. We had gold medal in Asian Junior Championships for first time, won by Satwik and Krishna Prasad. We had three junior medals so they are coming up though it will take time,” he said.
On the changing scenario for badminton players in the country, he said while facilities have improved, challenges have also grown. “Challenges are different, and there is lot more support (than it was during my time), but competition has also grown. Government support, their interest in game, and general interest of people in sports has improved, though there is a long way to go before we call ourselves a sporting nation,” he said.