In London 2012, it was Saina Nehwal who shook the world by clinching a bronze medal at the Olympics. In Rio 2016, it is Pusarla Venkata Sindhu who had created history by storming into the finals of Women’s singles badminton. Behind the inspiring success of both of them, there has been a coach and his world-class badminton academy, which churns out champions day in and out. Meet Pullela Gopichand, the Chief National Coach of the Indian badminton team who has trained and mentored the stars of badminton.
Mr. Gopichand is the winner of the prestigious All England Open Badminton Championship of 2001. He started his career in 1991 and received training under Prakash Padukone, another former Indian champion. Gopichand’s parents used to borrow money from friends and relatives to fund for his training programme. During his playing years, Gopichand suffered several knee injuries and was written off by experts many times. But he kept on coming back, proving his mettle. He went on to win gold in the SAARC badminton tournament in 1996, and lifted trophies at the Toulouse Open Championship in France and the Scottish open championship in Scotland in 1999. He also won bronze and silver at the Commonwealth Games of 1998. After achieving his career best ranking of 5 in 2001, he decided to retire and channelize his efforts towards breeding the next generation of badminton players.
In 2003, the Government of Andhra Pradesh under Chandrababu Naidu awarded him five acres of land in Hyderabad at nominal rates. Gopichand started mustering sponsorship and funding for his dream training centre that would come up on the awarded land. He found it extremely difficult to convince companies and investors to fund an unpopular sport in a cricket-obsessed nation. Finally, he mortgaged his family home and raised the remaining money from a serial entrepreneur N. Prasad to kick start the ‘Gopichand Badminton Academy’ in 2008.
The $2.5 million world-class academy contains eight courts, a swimming pool, weight training room, cafeteria and rooms to sleep. The wooden flooring is done as per international standards. In addition, physiotherapy, food and diet programs are also available. The academy was chosen by the Government of India to train its Commonwealth Games team for the 2010 event. It also hosted the 2009 Indian Open. Gopichand’s exemplary vision has given rise to stars like Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Srikanth Kidambi, who all have brought laurels to the country in recent times.
During his playing years, Gopichand used to donate the prize money of his international events for the cause of Kargil soldiers and Gujarat earthquake relief efforts. After winning the England championship in 2001, he declined an endorsement contract from a cola giant, since he believed aerated drinks are harmful. These incidents show the inner strength and resolve of Gopichand who was not only an exceptional player but also a man of high values.
Thank you, Mr. Gopichand! The nation owes him a sense of gratitude for reviving and revolutionising a relatively unpopular sport, first as a player and now as a coach. He is a living Kabir Khan of Chak De India, one who has dedicated his life to train young players to proudly see the flag of India getting hoisted at the Olympics. Nothing succeeds like success and Gopichand proved it number of times. He really deserves Dronacharya award.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)