By Pradyumna D S | Sportskeed
It is not often that we see one man become the sole driving force of a sport in a country. But that is exactly what Pullela Gopichand (Gopi as he is fondly known) has done. He has single-handedly made badminton popular in India, first as a player and now as a coach.
During the past few years, Gopi the coach has churned out players like Saina Nehwal, P. Kashyap, P.V. Sindhu etc. who have brought many laurels to the country and made the whole country proud. The result of their good performances is that India is now regarded as a serious force on the international badminton scene and are no longer considered to be bunnies bunnys for the Chinese. Gopi has to be given a lot of credit for that.
Gopi’s playing days
He had a stellar career as a player in every sense of the word. Gopi was born on 16th November 1973 in Nalgonda, Andhra Pradesh. Like most Indian kids, Gopi too was initially drawn towards cricket. It was Gopi’s brother Rajshekhar, a good badminton player himself, who introduced him to badminton and the rest as they say is history.
By the age of 13 he started to make a mark in the sport, when he started winning inter-school tournaments. After winning one of his many tournaments, Gopi suffered a serious ligament rupture. But he bounced back from injury in style by reaching the final of the AP State junior badminton championship, where interestingly he lost to the man who introduced him to badminton, his brother Rajsekhar.
He won five national championships between 1996 and 2000 and was in imperious form. During this period he also won two gold medals at the national games of 1998. His international career had already been kick started in 1991 when he was chosen to represent the Indian team against Malaysia.
He made big strides at the the highest level after winning two gold medals at the SAARC Badminton Championship. He also later went on to win medals at the Commonwealth Games in 1998 and won a variety of other tournaments like Toulouze Open, Scottish Open and the Asian Satellite Open.
His career had been moving along smoothly. But his crowning glory came in 2001 when he became just the second Indian after Prakash Padukone to win the prestigious All England Championships. During the course of his win, he went on to defeat many of the top seeds and debunked that mental notion of inferiority amongst Indians that they could not go past their Chinese counterparts.
Many top honours followed as he was bestowed with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2001 and the Padmashri award in 2005. Perhaps his biggest achievement is that he was inspired a whole generation of youth to take up badminton due to his achievements as a player.
Gopi’s coaching days
While Gopi inspired a generation of players to take up badminton during his playing days, as a coach, Gopi has nurtured that generation into top class players.
The famous All England championship win came at a small cost as Gopi was blighted by Injuries. That is when he decided to take up coaching, open a world class training facility and impart his experience to young players.
Out of the many awards he received after 2001, one was a huge piece of land the government awarded to him in a prime area in Hyderabad. Gopi decided to use this land for the academy and set about acquiring the required funding and sponsors for it. However, this was not an easy road. The project got very delayed and finally Gopi had to mortgage his own house to complete the training academy. The academy was finally up and running in 2008.
In six years the academy has come up by leaps and bounds. It is now recognized by the Badminton World Federation as a centre of excellence. The academy is an all encompassing facility which covers all the facilities a player requires. Facilities include a gym, swimming pool, cafetaria and so on. There also top class fitness trainers, masseurs and dieticians.
The creme de la creme of Indian badminton now regularly trains at Gopi’s academy under his tutelage. The list includes Sindhu, Kashyap and Guru Sai Dutt. Apart from the top players there are many young and upcoming players in the academy as well.
Gopi systematically divides his time among every player for their individual training. His day starts at 4:15 am and extends to 8:30 pm. He allots a certain time of the day to all the players, individually for the senior players and as batches for the younger ones and goes about it diligently. As most of the top coaches are, he is a hard task master on the court and a good friend off it.
He has taught his players to always keep emotions away from the game. Every major tournament will surely be followed by happiness and euphoria, but within no time Gopi and the players themselves are already planning and plotting for their next goals.
Gopi says that he yearns to see more and more tournaments where finals are contested by two of his players. It happened recently with Nehwal taking on Sindhu in the Indian Grand Prix Final.
Planning for the Future
The continued success of Sindhu and Kashyap is a reward for the hard work put in by the players and Gopi. Tt very pleasing for everyone concerned as well as the whole of India, but Gopi knows that he cannot rest on his laurels. He wants his academy to continuously churn out good players one after another.
Gopi has already confirmed that his academy is opening a new branch in Rajasthan around November 2014, aiming to give more and more players access to top class coaches and facilities.
But the biggest challenge Gopi faces is to find the next Gopi!