"Dronacharya means responsibility"
Former India badminton player Pullela Gopichand spoke exclusively to espnstar.com’s Garima Verma on a range of issues.
Responsibility is a word big enough to deepen the lines on even the smartest of the foreheads. A word big enough to produce a hint of the same on even an often saintly-looking Pullela Gopichand, whose demeanour otherwise verges on indifference.
The former badminton player and now a celebrated coach, Gopichand, has been chosen for the prestigious Dronacharya award this year and his apprentice, Saina Nehwal, for the Arjuna.
Though he admits that this new entry in his list of accolades, which already includes Arjuna award, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and Padma Shri, is the sweetest one so far, the responsibility that comes along with is enough to produce a hint of tension in his voice.
"I have never been so particular about the awards, but this one is special," Gopichand says after taking a moment or two to decide which of the four has been the most pleasant one.
"All the ones I got before Dronacharya have been as a player. Since this one is as a coach, it brings a lot more respect and responsibility," the affable Hyderabadi says, eyes widening just that a bit to highlight the magnitude of the task.
So, does that mean coach Gopichand pushing the newly-crowned wonder girl of the Indian sporting realm, Saina, harder?
Smiling away at the prospect of any such situation, he says, "With Saina it’s not about pushing her. It’s more to do with managing and making sure that we get maximum output from the efforts she puts in. She’s just 19 right now, remember.
"There is no scope of letting such emotions and expectations take over." All the more so when the consequences will lie with one of his best pupils.
"Result-wise, Saina is undoubtedly the best one I have coached. She has this inherent sense of discipline that sets her apart," the proud teacher says, who is sure enough of Saina to make a prediction on a hypothetical issue like where he sees her five years down the lane.
"The way she is going right now, I see her winning all the important titles and of course an Olympic medal," he says. "In any case I don’t see her out of top 8."
And when it came to Olympics, one could not help but remind the coach of how the girl, for whom the whole nation was praying, missed the podium by a whisker. "That’s the problem, sometimes she tries too hard," Gopichand says. Getting bogged down by pressure?
"Pressure is of course there when the whole country is keeping a watch on you. But she still has to get to that maturity level," he adds, not missing to drive home the fact again that the gal is "just 19".
The recognition which Saina has finally brought to the badminton now, many believe, might have come some time back itself, when the then All England Open Badminton Championships winner Gopichand refused to become the face of a leading soft drink brand. Does he regret having let go of an opportunity to bring another sport in some contest with cricket?
"That could have been the case for badminton, but that was a decision which appealed to my conscience then and still does," he says, as sure as ever. "How could I have asked my students to have healthy food now, if I had promoted that product then?"
But if it comes to Saina ever facing the similar state, the coach is sure that he will never try to press his ideology on her. "That decision will entirely lie with her. And, as an individual I respect any decision she takes."