He is the silent guardian, the skinny watchman who guards the national treasure. He is barely animated. He has no visual delight about him and can be easily mistaken for the average nobody if you have never heard about him. His presence is underwhelming, often drawing less than required attention from the cameramen.
He barely utters a word on the court. He watches, observes and advises his minions on the court, all in a minimal fashion. He has an assured calmness about him. He is the godfather of Indian badminton, he is Pullela Gopichand, the Don Vito Corleone of Indian badminton.
Much like Mario Puzo’s epic fictional character, Gopichand too began from humble beginnings and had to work hard to gain the stature that he is associated with. And much like Don Vito, he dethroned a World Number One to lift his trophy. His career rekindled the faith of Indians in the sport of badminton.
A gold medal at SAARC badminton tournament, a silver in the team event and a bronze in men's singles at 1998 Commonwealth Games and winning the prestigious All England Open Badminton Championships at Birmingham were the crowning achievements of his career. Arjuna Award, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Padma Shri, Dronacharya Award, Padma Bhushan have been deservingly showered on him.
Now that his playing days are long over, he still does his bit for the game he loves. Being the visionary that he is, he found the Gopichand badminton academy, a badminton training facility in Hyderabad, India. Setting up this academy involved mortgaging his house for 3 crores, how is that for the love of the game?
He has unraveled various gems for India. The facility which gave India its badminton stars such as Saina Nehwal, Srikanth Kidambi, PV Sindhu
Contrary to the belief of over a billion Indians, Saina Nehwal bowed out early at Rio and the skeptics rested India’s hopes in badminton as next to nil. Never the one to lose his calm, the national badminton coach - Gopichand sits quietly by the court and sees his pupils at work. The mantra has always been ever so clear – Determination, Hard Work, Belief.
Discipline has always been the leitmotif of Gopichand’s life, both during his playing as well as coaching days. He is always the first one to arrive at 4am. Usually, the day begins with his first session, with senior students like PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth. Such is the level of his dedication that he decided to be totally off carbohydrates. India’s badminton coach since 2006 has been a fitness freak but this time, he wasn’t doing it for himself. He wanted to stay super fit so that he could be an effective sparring partner to PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth.
“You can feel lazy about having to get up at 3am every day to reach the academy for training, but when you see Gopi Sir do it for you, you only feel inspired,” Srikanth was quoted by Newslaundry
A team man to the core, he advanced his waking up time by an hour (to 2am) and would spend the first 60 minutes of his day analysing the previous games played by Sindhu and Srikanth
“I love what I do. I feel fortunate that I get to do, what I do. The players need to see the opportunity that I do and stay physically and mentally hungry,” the sport for Gopichand is a way of life.
Working hard on the players
PV Sindhu has been overwhelmingly fantastic at Rio; she has superseded expectations of over a billion people. Finally, India has a shot at Gold in badminton, for the first time. Knowing the short-lived memory of audiences, it is possible in all likeliness that if Sindhu wins gold, she will be glorified and the popular tabloids might not find enough space to accommodate Gopichand’s hard work.
Therefore, it is at this point, just before the final that this article is written. Irrespective of Sindhu winning a gold or not, the performance of Sindhu and Gopichand have both been praiseworthy. Producing players of the highest standard is by no means an ordinary job.
“Producing champions is not a part-time business. There are some constants that you need to follow to excel at the international level”
By his own admittance, the performance of his pupils at Rio have given him sleepless nights. But then again, he will never show you that side on the court. The statement usually comes when the action is done for the day, only after Sindhu assured a final birth.
"The last few days reminded me of my career. I wasn't able to sleep”, Gopichand was quoted by India Today.
A rather ecstatic PV Sindhu went down on her knees as she kicked Nozomi Okuhara of Japan out of contention at the Rio Olympics. The Japanese coach had been fairly animated throughout the match, Gopichand on the other was cool as ice, ushering words only when the situation demanded.
When Kidambi Srikanth beat Jan O Jorgensen of Denmark in the Round of 16, he punched his chest in joy and then immediately ran across to his coach, the one and only Pullela Gopichand. The soul of Indian Badminton, the entity that binds the various façades of the sport in India. Gopichand’s legend is forever and whatever follows forever.
No one has a better claim to influence in Indian badminton in such generous capacity as ‘Gopi’ does. Gopichand imbibes belief and proves that there is no shortcut to success. He stands for everything that sports are a euphemism for – Life.
"We know how Gopichand worked hard and always encouraged her. His only ambition was that we have to win a medal better than what others have won so far," PV Sindhu’s mother.