India is far away from becoming a powerhouse of sports and the Olympic medal tally this time, which doubled from three to six from Beijing 2008 to London 2012, is a reflection of that. And the reasons for the same are many. From an apathetic public to corrupt politicians gnawing away at resources meant for developing sports, India has the perfect recipe for being in this state where they’re in sports almost seven decades after independence.
Despite all these barriers, however, there are some people who have quietly worked in the background to turn things around for Indian sports. They fight the conditions and the structures that are far from perfect to get the best for their disciples. They make sacrifices that hardly ever get recognized but help them in establishing a connection with the player and make champions out of them. These are the coaches who work day in and day out for not their, but their disciples’ glory.
Even if sports in the country is moving inch by inch in the right direction, it now thankfully is moving. And the credit for it goes to some men India have been lucky to have. Here is a look at 5 coaches who have quietly gone on changing the face of Indian sports.
#1 Laszlo Szucsak, Rifle Shooting
At the turn of the millennium, Shooting was just like any other non-cricketing sport in India. Neither did our shooters perform spectacularly to make people take notice of the sport, nor did the public have a great interest in following it. The sport was clearly in dire need of icons. Entered Hungarian Laszlo Szucsak in 1998 and changes followed.
Considered as a high-performance coach, the rifle coach of the Indian shooting team first gave India a star in Anjali Bhagwat and also helped a teenager by the name of Abhinav Bindra to remove the chinks in his armour.
His first stint lasted only two years but it was to be followed by an even more fruitful stint from 2004-2009. During this time he saw Abhinav Bindra climb up the podium in Beijing apart from winning the World Championship Gold in Zagreb in 2006. Szucsak also worked closely with Gagan Narang, and although he wasn’t around by the time Narang won his London Bronze, his contributions were duly acknowledged by the shooter.
#2 Bi Fernandez, Boxing
India’s boxing hit its highest point in 2012 when Vijender Singh brought home a Bronze in the middleweight category. Since then, Indian Boxing has lurched from one low to another. Nothing, however, has hurt the boxers more than the departure of Cuban Bi Fernandez, who was handed a two-year ban for his role of Sarita Devi’s protest at 2014 Asian Games.
Bi Fernandez had three spells with Indian Boxing - 1990-1994, 1997-2000 and a long one from 2004 to 2015 and he gave his all to transform it from being a neglected sport to become a sport that gave superstars . All boxers vouch for the great emotional support that the Cuban was who often fought with authorities to support the right man.
“What European coaches do is simply tell the boxer what they want and they expect the boy will do it. But what I realized over time is that Indian boxers are emotional. If I feel an attachment to them, they will do what you know they should be doing,” said Fernandez in one of his interactions with media. For his glorious contribution to Boxing, Fernandez also became the first foreign coach to be awarded the Dronacharya Award for Lifetime Contribution.
#3 Gary Kirsten, Cricket
An accomplished batsman who was recognized over the world for his grit and discipline when on the pitch, Gary Kirsten brought the same qualities to his coaching when he took over the reins of the Indian cricket team as it tried to put behind the traumatic Greg Chappell era. He made the Indians believe in themselves and play as a unit after the time with Chappell had left a divided dressing room. And the victories kept on coming.
Kirsten, combining with skipper MS Dhoni, oversaw a highly successful period of Indian cricket which saw them climb to number 1 ranking in Tests apart from lifting the Cricket World Cup in 2011. How important Kirsten was to Indian cricket was understood once he left the job after which the team struggled outside the subcontinent. MS Dhoni called Gary Kirsten “the best thing to happen to Indian cricket.”
#4 Pulela Gopichand, Badminton
Although we at Sportskeeda, are no MS Dhoni, but it won’t be too off the mark if we say that Pulela Gopichand is the best thing to happen to Indian badminton. Only the second Indian to win the All England title after Prakash Padukone, Gopichand had a disastrous Olympic campaign in 2000 when he was at the peak of his prowess and was backed by many to get India a medal.
The shuttler lacked, however, proper coaching facilities. And once he took coaching in 2004 he set to eradicate the same problems that hindered his rise in the sport. Gopichand’s acumen was quickly recognised and he was made the national coach in 2006 and he made sure no Indian lacked on the grandest stage what he did.
Gopichand is a tough taskmaster who is ready to give his pupils everything once they commit themselves to him. And the results are there for everyone to see. His protégé Saina Nehwal won the Olympic Bronze in 2012 and in 2016 PV Sindhu demolished opponents on her way to a Silver with coach Gopichand shouting in his advices and mantras from the sidelines.
Kidambi Srikanth and Parupalli Kashyap may not have won the Olympic riches but under Gopichand, and in his champion churning Gopichand academy, they too are climbing up quietly to become World beaters.
#5 Satpal Singh, Wrestling
India’s love affair with wrestling is ages old. However, the digital era had made the seduction of cricket and other spectator sports so irresistable that wrestling gradually took a backseat for Indians. The sport, like shooting, needed icons to reclaim its old glory. And 3 medals in two Olympics have helped it do just that.
But behind those three medals, there was one name – that of Satpal Singh fondly referred to as Mahabali Satpal. A formidable force on the mat himself and a star of India’s wrestling scene in the 70s and 80s, Satpal’s akhada now trains many starry-eyed young wrestlers, who, inspired by Bhaiya Sushil (Kumar) and Yogeshwar Dutt feat, want nothing less than an Olympic medal.
Satpal has fought obstructive bureaucracy and public apathy for the sport to help his wards successfully make the transition from akhadas to the Olympic mat. His achievements have found due recognition and he has been awarded Arjuna Award, Dronacharya Award, Padma Shri and also Padma Bhushan, making him clearly the most decorated of Indian coaches.
Rio might not have been the brightest point of Indian wrestling, thanks to ugly controversies, but some hope still rests on Yogeshwar to life the pall of gloom possibly with a medal.