Rio 2016: ‘Fierce competitor’ Pullela Gopichand plays the perfect mentor | olympics$india-at-rio | Hindustan Times
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Rio 2016: ‘Fierce competitor’ Pullela Gopichand plays the perfect mentor

After winning the All England in 2001, Gopichand could have basked in the glory of the achievement, instead he chose to take up the challenge of nurturing young talent.

olympics 2016 Updated: Aug 19, 2016 14:39 IST
Bihan Sengupta
Pullela Gopichand (left) with his pupils K Srikanth and PV Sindhu in Hyderabad.
Pullela Gopichand (left) with his pupils K Srikanth and PV Sindhu in Hyderabad.(PTI)

To compete on a stage as big as the Olympics, the mental pressure an athlete undergoes is unimaginable --- four years of hard work to compete against the world’s best and prove one’s mettle. But as they polish their skills, coaches, managers and mentors, or whatever their tag as on-field guardians, have a torrid time as well.

Here’s where Pullela Gopichand has been crafting a tale, that’s perhaps going to be unmatched for some time. A silver and bronze winner at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, Gopichand won the All England Open Badminton Championships in 2001. He became the second Indian to win the title after Prakash Padukone in 1980, whose academy he later joined. Gopichand could have basked in the glory of the achievement but chose to take up the challenge of nurturing young talent.

The former world No 5’s efforts were recognised by the Andhra Pradesh government, which granted land for an academy in Hyderabad. Retired at 30, Gopichand was a young mentor who could connect with the next generation.

Manigirish Palekar, who played alongside Gopichand at the Prakash Padukone Academy, hailed Gopichand as the best Indian coach across all sports. “He’s dedicated and is responsible for the quality of badminton we’ve been witnessing lately. He has an academy that has been producing quality stars over the past few years,” he said.

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“The way Sindhu dominated the (Olympic) semifinal (against Nozomi Okuhara) to go through to the final was terrific. There were times when she did commit a few errors, but that’s where Gopi stood out. He ensured she stayed calm and went on to win the match. He has had to mentor so many players at the Games but has not lost his cool.”

“The quality of players Gopichand has churned out has changed the face of badminton in India,” said former national doubles champion Bhushan Akut. “They are fearless and aggressive on the court. Gopi was a fierce competitor and he has passed on the quality.”

Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth, Sindhu, Parupalli Kashyap — nearly every top-ranked Indian badminton player has a link with the Dronacharya awardee. Saina has parted ways to pair up with Vimal Kumar, but the decade-long partnership with Gopichand did bear fruit for the former Olympic bronze medallist.

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While an injury cost Kashyap an Olympic qualification, Srikanth and Sindhu have shown their class. The nation now awaits Sindhu to script a new chapter when she takes on Carolina Marin for gold on Friday evening.