Pullela Gopi Chand is at peace. Saina Nehwal's bronze medal-winning performance in London has helped the coach slay the demons of the past. No wonder, the soft spoken former all-England champion is relaxed, having realised his Olympic dream though his student. Excerpts from the interview:
Among the Olympics you've attended as a player and coach, has this one been the most satisfying?
By all means, yes. We put in our 100 percent and at the end of the day we also got a medal. It comes once in four years and this one has been an exception. The feeling remains wonderful. My family and friends know what this medal means to me.
How confident were you about Saina before going to London?
We were quite confident. Before the Olympics, she had good outings in Thailand and Indonesia, where she won titles. Overall, our preparation was good and the focus was to get her into a rhythm. Once she gets going, it's difficult to stop her. We had a good team backing her, including physio C Kiran. We had two slots of six weeks between tournaments this year, which we used well. I have learnt that unless you prepare well, you can't play well.
Saina prevented a Chinese sweep in women's singles. So it's no secret now, it is Saina vs China from now on?
Yes, and it's a big challenge. It's not going to be easy for Saina in the coming tournaments. In women's singles, almost all the top players are young. The top-four Chinese are below 25, unlike in men's, where players dominate till they are 28-30. In the coming years, more Chinese girls will join the bandwagon.
Take us through what happened between losing the semifinal and winning the bronze.
Saina wasn't ready to let go of her loss to Wang Yihan in the semifinal. She was not able to attack properly and seemed in a hurry to finish it off. After the loss, she shut herself out. I insisted that she watch the video of the match that night. She said, 'No bhaiya, I want to forget this match', but I insisted. It was important for her to look at what she was doing wrong, so that she didn't commit the same mistakes the next day in her bronze medal match.
You kept the Olympic preparation camp going by spending money from your pocket for shuttles. Do you think with this medal, at least you will get your dues?
I had said before the Olympics that I would have kept the camp going at all cost. I do hope that the backlog is cleared by the federation. But this is not the time to point fingers, this is the time to celebrate.
This has been India's best performance so far. How do you assess the other players' performance?
Fantastic. P Kashyap has done us proud. Jwala (Gutta) and Ashwini (Ponnappa) were unlucky to miss out by a whisker, but in a league format, you have to be on your toes from the beginning. In mixed doubles, though we qualified for the first time, Jwala and Diju looked sluggish. But overall, I am satisfied.
The decision to disqualify the four women's doubles pairs was due.
It was bad publicity for the sport, but it had to happen someday. I am happy with the world body's action.
Why did the BWF (world body) not take India's appeal seriously – that a Japanese pair had also thrown their match in Jwala-Ashwini's group?
The panel had reverted to us saying they found no evidence. I think since only one pair was trying to lose, it was difficult to detect. In other cases, since both pairs were desperate to lose, it became obvious.
Having changed the face of Indian badminton, do you feel you have achieved what you had set out for?
Who has seen tomorrow? There is a lot more to come. At the moment, I am content and relaxed.