By Ritesh Misra
“My coach and Gopichand are good friends. I call him Gopi Bhaiya. He gave me dry fruit and allowed me to eat chicken and fish. He and his family even opened their kitchen and allowed me to cook for myself, as they only made South Indian food”.
These are the words of double Asian games silver medallist Dutee Chand of Odisha who is aiming for gold at Tokyo 2020. She is speaking about Badminton coach Pullela Gopichand who is ushering in a badminton revolution in our country. Gopichand accepted the request of Ramesh Nagapuri, coach of Dutee to allow her practice at his academy and he also is guiding her training and giving her much needed faith and motivation.
Dutee has publicly acknowledged several times the contribution of Gopichand and of Rajya Sabha MP Dr Acyhuta Samanta of Odisha in encouraging and nurturing her. She stated that “Had Dr Samanta not supported me, I could not have achieved the unachievable”.
More on Dutee Chand in another piece.
This piece is a birthday tribute to super coach Pullela Gopichand whose birthday it is on 16th November. Let us go on our trivia journey to discover some unknown aspects of his career as a coach and a player.
As a player, Gopichand continued the Indian tradition of badminton champions such as Nandu Natekar, Prakash Padukone and Syed Modi. Gopichand was the next big badminton player from India. Born at Nagandla, Prakasham district in Andhra Pradesh, he was destined for stardom since young. A serious multiple ligament rupture at 13 could not stop him. His brother too was a terrific badminton player and defeated him in finals of State schools tournament. However, his brother was a brilliant student as well and qualified the tough IIT exams and stopped playing. Gopichand says that he too had tried for IIT but could not get through ( he modestly uses the word flunked) and says that paradoxically that proved lucky for him as he focussed on badminton.
Gopichand also had a career-threatening injury at just 21 when he needed to be operated after an on-court collision. However, despite odds to the contrary, he came back. At 23 he became National Champion and repeated the feat 5 times. His crowning glory was becoming only the 2nd Indian after Prakash Padukone to win the All England Championship, Creditably he defeated World Number 1 Peter Gade in the semi-finals and a higher ranked Chen Hong of China in the final.
Gopichand won 5 International titles including the All England and was world number 5. One of his titles came against an Indian opponent Siddharth Jain, considered one of the best defensive players in the country. Siddharth used to say that Gopichand’s hallmark, apart from his deceptivity and amazing on-court intelligence was his ability to play five different strokes with the same action. He also praised his stamina and said that he was at his best in tough 3 game matches since he had terrific stamina.
It is as a coach though that Gopichand has reached greater heights. The beginnings were tough. He had no money and spent all his savings and even mortgaged his house. Reportedly industrialist Nammagadda Prasad of Matrix laboratories gave him a 5 crore loan and said that if Gopichand could assure an Olympic medal, the loan would be converted into a grant.
Well, Gopichand has already achieved not just one Olympic medal from his students but two already. Saina Nehwal won bronze in 2012 and PV Sindhu won silver in 2016. Can we expect Gold in 2020. Why not? Surely Gopichand and his wards will be hard at work to try and achieve this dream for the country.
If hard work was a hallmark of Gopichand as a player, the same continues for him as a coach. To ensure his students work hard he does too. He has taken a house just opposite his academy so that he too is there on the court at 4 AM. Gopichand is also particular about discipline and does not want distractions. For instance, during tournaments, cell phones are not allowed to his wards. Diet too is an integral part of the training and he takes meticulous care to ensure planned nutrition.
While the two biggest stars are undoubtedly Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, they are not the only ones in Gopichand’s academy. Srikanth Kidambi and Parupalli Kashyap are two more stars. Srikanth has even become World Number 1 while Kashyap is also a regular in top 10 as well. Sameer Verma, Prannoy Kumar, and Sai Praneeth have also made their mark. They and many more youngsters are all set to make a big presence at world level.
My personal favourite among Gopichand’s boys is Satwiksairaj Rankireddy who is just 18 and recently at the 2018 Commonwealth Games won a gold at the mixed team event and a silver at the men’s doubles event. Currently, the teenager who has a devastating smash plays doubles only. It will be interesting to see if Gopichand has plans to start singles for him as well. I hope he does. But of course, he knows best.
Tribute from the Home front
Gopichand’s wife Lakshmi is also a former badminton player and Olympian. The greatest tribute to Gopichand as a coach is that Lakshmi says that if in her playing days she had got a coach like her husband she would have got Gold for India. Their children too are young badminton talents. Maybe they will also be great champions in the future.
The Government of Odisha has signed a MOU with Pullela Gopichand Foundation to set up a world class badminton academy in Odisha. To signify the seriousness of the Government, the Sports Secretary Shri Vishal Dev signed the agreement with Gopichand in the presence of the Hon’ble Chief Minister. Shri Naveen Patnaik spoke on the occasion and said that he wanted to see Odisha as the sports capital of the country and Olympic medallists from Odisha and Gopicand’s academy would help make the dream a reality. Gopichand too said that the academy would strive to nurture great talent from grassroots to International level.
Recently in the Make in Odisha event where top industrialists like Mukesh Ambani, Sajjan Jindal and Naveen Jindal re-affirmed their commitment to investment in Odisha and participation in the dream to make Odisha a sporting powerhouse, Gopichand along with Anil Kumble and Gagan Narang addressed the Press and reiterated their commitment to the CM and the people of Odisha that they are joining Odisha’s sports movement.
Gopichand’s next mission is to produce more world-class coaches for India to ensure that we are not people dependent but systems driven.
Happy birthday super player and super coach. Continue your mission(s) to get Olympic glory for India.
The blogger, Ritesh Misra, is an IRS Officer currently based in Mumbai. He tweets @riteshmisra. His hobbies are sports, films, and music.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Pragativadi and Pragativadi.com does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.