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Shuttling with a billion dreams

other Updated: Aug 02, 2011 01:58 IST
Anamika Nandedkar
Anamika Nandedkar
Hindustan Times
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If chief national coach, Pullela Gopi Chand, is to be believed, winning an Olympic medal is easier than winning a Super Series tournament. "The rules of qualification restrict China's participation to a maximum of three players in the Olympics, while in a Super Series you can run into many more," he said.

Though Saina Nehwal feels the Chinese are not to be feared, her coach was aware of the reality while talking about her chances of a podium finish in London next year.

At world No. 6, the possibility of Saina not making it to the 2012 Games is bleak. And she is a strong medal contender considering the way she has grown in stature - three years after her quarterfinal exit from Beijing, which was the farthest an Indian shuttler has reached in an Olympics.

Saina had come agonisingly close to securing a fourth Olympic medal for India at the 2008 Games. The nation held its breath to see if she could add to the cheer brought by shooter Abhinav Bindra. Then 18, Saina lost to the eventual bronze medallist from Indonesia after being in control even halfway into the deciding game.

The qualification year for badminton is into its third month and those who survive the coming nine months will fight for those shiny medals in London, which will also host the World Championships next month.

The qualification will be based on world rankings as on May 3, 2012, and till then, even insignificant ranking tournaments will attract players lining up for the Games.

This time, India might be lucky to have more than the two customary shuttlers in the mega event. Gopi Chand has hopes from Jwala Gutta, who could steer India in the mixed doubles with V Diju, and women's doubles with Ashwini Ponnappa.

Like the other top India players, currently in Hyderabad for the national camp at the Gopichand Academy, Diju is sweating it out and looks in good shape, despite being out for three months because of a shoulder injury. Watching him from an adjacent court, Jwala remarked, "He is fine."

Gopi Chand said that unlike other sports, badminton could not have a special preparatory camp for the Olympics. "All we have to do is to keep playing the entire year and perform well," he said. "Unless we play, we cannot qualify for 2012, so we will have to get good results."

Rift is passé
Gopi Chand feels Saina's current form is not an indication on how she'll perform over the next year.

Saina's form and ranking has plummeted in the past six months, and this happened at a time when she decided to part ways with Gopi Chand. The player-coach duo reconciled two months ago, and now refuses to comment on the dark period, saying, "It is in the past."

Though cordial during practice, the underlying tension was unmistakable when they walked off in different directions after practice.

Both Saina and Jwala are in a good position to make a mark at the London Olympics, unless another controversy ruins it.

The road to Olympics