Rio de Janeiro: At 42, former All-England champion P Gopichand made a comeback of sorts stepping into the courts with racket in hand. No, not to win a medal, rather to help his trainees — PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth — practise and guide them to the podium at the Olympic Games.
This was certainly not an easy task for him to train with the young shuttlers, keeping in mind the strain he needs to put on his ‘old’ body. But he was ready to take this plunge for the sake of getting his wards fit to take on the world.
So, he cut his diet. Restricted himself to a strict ‘carbohydrate’ diet. And results are in front of everyone. Srikanth may have missed the podium but not before beating two of the top world stars. Sindhu grounded three world class shuttlers before missing the gold.
All this because they had a teacher who was ready to go to any extent to help his country go miles ahead of others.
“I didn’t want to get injured or fall sick. I thought it was very important to ensure that they (Sindhu and Srikanth) were at their peak fitness. That was very important. I knew before coming here that we didn’t have many sparring partners, and I had to train with them. Luckily, my body stood me in good shape,” said Gopi (as he is fondly called) in his usual calm manner.
“This was the reason that I was on a very strict carb diet,” he said.
The whole nation watched how Sindhu scripted history becoming the youngest Indian to win an Olympic medal. But behind her stellar performance is the story of her ‘strict’ coach, who was even advised against spending so much time on an “emotional” Sindhu.
“Ispe time kyun waste kar rahe ho? (Why are you wasting time on her?),” someone asked Gopichand after Sindhu lost in the first round of Australian Open just two months prior to the Games. But the former India men’s No. 1 player trusted Sindhu’s hard work and put her on a strict regimen.
“I believed that she was willing to take the load. I trusted that instinct and she has truly listened to whatever I have had to tell her. We had an absolutely perfect 60 days of training before this (Games). No slip ups. The last 16-17 days here were perfect too,” said Gopi adding that Sindhu never said no to anything that she was told to go through during this period.
“Her solid work ethic was one aspect. ‘Aap usse kitna bhi kaam karwana chaho, woh kaam karne ko taiyaar hai’ (Irrespective of how effort you ask her to put in, she will). ‘Bas match mein kabhi kabhi perform nahi karti thi, emotional hoti thi, aur dar jaati thi’ (Only that sometimes she wouldn’t perform well in matches and let emotions get the better of her and become fearful),” Gopi said.
“As a person, she is extremely friendly. She’s got a lot of friends and a big fan-following. She can quickly make friends with anybody. On the court, you need to be focussed, put your head down, and be a different person altogether. Sometimes, that’s a conflict which happens. She needs to know how to balance both,” added Gopi, who along with his Olympian wife PVV Lakshmi, has been running his badminton academy in Hyderabad since 2008.
Gopi understood that handling Sindhu’s emotions was going to be a challenge for some time, but he knows players learn handling pressure with age.
“We did work on that, and the results showed during last one week. I think that she should believe in the power within her. We saw a huge transformation at the Olympics, and she should keep continuing forward with that.”
However, Gopi praised Sindhu’s work ethics and for never giving him a chance to complain.
“I can tell you that for the last six years, we start every day at 4.30 in the morning. Not once do I remember her telling me, ‘I’ll come at 4.45 or 5.00’. That’s her work ethic. I only have to tell her the time. If I say 6.45, she’ll say okay without hesitation. That’s the way she trains,” came the appreciation.
That’s why Gopi told Sindhu to enjoy the moment of winning silver rather than losing gold.
“Immediately after the game, I told her, don’t think we have lost a match, but that we have won a medal. This I told her so that she doesn’t forget the effort she put in the last week.”
Gopi’s efforts have been crucial to the development of India as a formidable force in the international arena of badminton.
Having produced two medals in as many Games, Saina Nehwal in 2012 and now Sindhu, Gopi has no time to think about what has happened. There is sea of opportunities lying ahead for Indian shuttlers and he just have to guide them to swim and swim it in style.