Twelve months before Rio, as athletes around the world geared up for peak training, the dream of winning an Olympic medal seemed to lie shattered by the wayside for a 19-year-old girl from Hyderabad, India.
She was already a two-time World Championship bronze medalist, but an Olympic medal is what dreams are made of and what every top athlete aspires to.
And an injury is the worst nightmare.
In Badminton, when any shot is hit, shuttles come oddly at a receiver – the height as well as the turning trajectories, and usually a low centre of gravity is recommended. On average in a match a player ends up doing 300 squats while returning. And to keep on squatting needs a lot of fitness.
“She was already a two-time World Championship bronze medalist, but an Olympic medal is what dreams are made of and what every top athlete aspires to.”
PV Sindhu had just fractured a foot and it was in a cast. Anyone else would have taken a month or two off to recover before starting the rigorous training that Olympic success demands.
Not this young lady.
Her logic was simple.
Badminton requires the whole body to be fit. So two arms, one leg and the upper body could start the training while the foot healed!
“It’s not like she was sitting at home for 2-3 weeks. Gopi (Sindhu’s coach Pullela Gopichand) and me knew we didn’t want to waste time. You see, the other leg was fine, so was the upper body and the abs. We simply designed a way to improve her skills while one leg was still in a cast,” C. Kiran, her physio and trainer later said.
For two and a half to three months, the rest of her body kept getting trained, and when she returned, the foot healed – though it meant starting from scratch on strength and endurance, Sindhu was never out of training even for a moment.
“We removed the cast and we started off like nothing had happened,” he recalled.
Sindhu had a phenomenal Olympics.
“We simply designed a way to improve her skills while one leg was still in a cast”
Entering the Olympics with a world ranking of ten, she fought her way through to the quarters, where she beat the world No. 2, China’s Wang Yihan, London Olympics silver medalist and 19-time Superseries winner.
In the semis, Sindhu beat Nozomi Okuhara from Japan in straight sets. No one who saw the commanding performance would have thought the Japanese girl was ranked five places above her.
In the Olympic finals, Sindhu ran into the Spanish juggernaut, world No. 1 Carolina Marin, who, over the past couple of years, had shattered the decades-long dominance of the Chinese in the sport.
It was an epic battle.
Almost 90 minutes later, it was merely the long experience of Marin that helped her prevail in a heart-stopping 3-set encounter.
Sindhu had given it everything she had, but had come out second best.
The anguish and disappointment on the face lasted the two minutes it took to compose herself. Then the broad genuine smile she carries around as her trademark broke out in all its glory, as she realised that she had just won an Olympic silver, and for all eternity, would be acknowledged as the second best player in the world in 2016.
And that is the hallmark of this young athlete from India.
Defeats don’t get her down. Success does not go to the head. Every defeat is a stepping stone to future success. Every win is a moment to be savoured and treasured.
And what was the first thing she said when interviewed after the Olympics? “My immediate aim is the Superseries. I will focus on that.”
And she did.
This weekend, she delivered on her promise. She won her first Superseries title, the China Open, defeating China’s home favourite Sun Yu in the finals.
It is, however, just the beginning for this new kid on the block at the top of women’s badminton.
She is 21 years old.
The old guard of badminton, the dominating Chinese, have now been displaced. Seven out of ten top women today are not Chinese.
Carolina Marin is the current World and Olympic champion, but she is far from being the undisputed Queen of Badminton.
Sindhu is young and hungry. Winning the Olympic Silver has not changed neither her attitude nor her schedule
She still travels 56 kilometres in the morning to start her 7-hour training stint at 4am at the Gopichand Academy. Her trainer Kiran believes her physical fitness can improve up to 20 per cent from current levels.
With the prodigious talent, the rapidly increasing physical strength, the uncompromising attitude towards training, and the will and hunger for success, it is just a matter of time before the new golden girl of badminton smashes through the door that separates her from the roof at the top of the badminton world.
Carolina Marin should be afraid. Very afraid.