Pullela Gopichand – A mix of Sourav Ganguly's aggression and Rahul Dravid's gentlemanship
Pullela Gopichand did it in 2012. He has done it again in 2016. In the last 16 years, India have won just 10 medals at four Olympics. Two of those medalists – Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu – were trained by Gopichand.
After winning the All England Championship in 2011, Gopi, who was always known for his never-say-die attitude, started his academy in Gachibowli in Hyderabad, with a dream of producing champion shuttlers. That he had to mortgage his house for the same is a different thing, but today he would be extremely proud looking at his pupils compete against the best in the business, like he would have wanted them to.
Sindhu's success story at Rio is still the talk of the town. After Saina's early exit in the tournament, not many expected the remaining shuttlers to put up a fight. But those who underestimated Gopi, were forced to eat their words when Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth gave their hearts out in their remaining matches.
In a cricket-obsessed nation, it was unbelievable to see the hype around India's badminton matches during Rio Olympics. Sindhu's final against Spain's Carolina Marin, became one of the most viewed events in history of Indian sports.
While cricket still rules the country, here is a comparison as to why Gopichand is a mix of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.
Aggression is the fuel which drove the force within Sourav Ganguly. When he took over the captaincy, Indian cricket was marred with match-fixing controversies. Indian team also had the reputation of being a champion side at home, while their performances abroad were never up to the mark.
Ganguly changed the mindset of his players. He not only led from the front with memorable knocks, but also backed his players to the hilt. The likes of Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh owe a major part of their success to Ganguly.
Under Ganguly's leadership, Indian team got the much-needed spark. There was a change in the body language of the players under Dada's captaincy. Against world class opponents, Ganguly was always ready to hold the bull by its horns – something which shocked the best in the business, especially Australians.
Likewise, Gopi has been instilling not only confidence, but a lot of aggression in his players as well. Gone are the days when Chinese players humiliated Indian shuttlers in major events.
In Srikanth vs Lin Dan match at Rio, after losing the first game in no time, the way Srikanth fought back was a treat to watch for the Indian fans. From second game onwards, Super Dan hardly got any opportunities to unleash his breathtaking smashes. Memories of losing to Srikanth in China Opne final in 2014 would have come back to haunt the five-time world champion. Despite losing in three games, Srikanth had given Gopichand something he had trained him for years – fearless approach against a legendary opponent.
From Saina, to Sindhu, to Parupalli Kashyap, to Srikanth, over the years, Gopi has trained his shuttlers to compete against world class opponents, especially the Chinese. It's because of him that conquering the Chinese wall is no more an uphill task for Indian shuttlers.
Recently, soon after the BCCI released an ad for the vacancy of Indian cricket coach, biggies from across the globe threw their hats into the ring for the prestigious job. While there was a lot of drama involved before Anil Kumble sealed the top job, all of it would have been avoided had Rahul Dravid accepted BCCI's initial offer to coach the Indian team.
Never the one to hog limelight, Dravid requested BCCI president Anurag Thakur to let him be the coach of the Indian U-19 team. With that decision, The Wall once again proved why is he regarded as one of the true gentlemen of the sport.
Just like Dravid, Gopichand too loves to stay away from limelight. If he demands 100 percent from his pupils, it is only because he himself follows the same discipline. After Rio Olympics, Gopi had revealed that to ensure that his shuttlers followed a proper regimen, he too was on a strict diet.
Gopichand seems to be more than happy to see Saina Nehwal in the past and PV Sindhu now, basking in the glory of their success. While the entire nation has gone berserk praising Sindhu for her historic feat, Gopi wouldn't want to take any credit for the amount of hard work he has put in transforming the 21-year-old in to an altogether different player.
While Gopi is yet to get his due from the countrymen, just like Dravid, there is enormous respect in the Indian badminton fraternity for him. His shuttlers blindly follow what he asks them to, results for which are there for all to see.
At a time when other sports are struggling to show consistency at the biggest sporting spectacle, Gopi has been quite successful in his mission. To make badminton so popular in the country in itself a massive achievement.
Winning two medals at Rio is obviously a below par achievement. But Gopi's shuttlers stood away from the rest with their gutsy show. It was only when they started beating higher-ranked opponents in Rio, did we all realize the amount of hard work he had been putting in since the last few months to prepare them for the biggest event.
When Saina left Gopichand's academy in 2014, she alleged that he didn't have enough time for her. Her statement came as a huge shock as she was one of Gopi's finest pupils. However, Gopi refused to react to her statement.
Saina might be one of the best shuttlers in international circuit at the moment, not to forget, it was under Gopichand's watchful eyes that she became the player she is today.
After her arrival in India, Sindhu was welcomed with lucrative endorsement deals and grand felicitation ceremonies. However, when Gopichand was asked about Sindhu's performance at Rio Olympics, he said that she was still far from being the player he sees in her.
“We need to be patient. We need to understand that results may not come as consistently as we want them. But it is important she understands and tries. She is still 21 and she has probably another 10 years and once she realizes what I see in my eyes, she will be head and shoulder above the rest of the world,” he said.
Such is the commitment level of the man. While any other athlete would be unhappy with the statement, Sindhu can't complain at all. She owes every bit of her success to her dedicated coach. From a shy girl, Gopi has transformed her into an extremely aggressive shuttler.
Only if coaches from across the country could take a leaf out of Gopi's coaching manual, there is no reason why Indians cannot end their dismal show at the biggest sporting spectacle.
Yes, India does need a lot of investment, infrastructure, and everything else to win medals at Olympics. But more than anything else, India needs a lot of Gopichands.
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