Badminton coach Pullela Gopichand and chess coach R. B. Ramesh were joint winners of the Coach of the Year title at the Sportstar Aces Awards on Monday. They beat Indian men’s cricket team coach Ravi Shastri and table tennis coach S. Raman to the prize.
Considered the best trainer in the country, soft-spoken grandmaster-turned-coach Ramesh has shaped the future of some of the most exciting chess talents in the country. He gave up his job with Indian Oil and an active career as a player to take to coaching. His students have won around 35 World youth medals, 40 Asian Youth medals, 40 Commonwealth medals and 36 national titles! Ramesh was chosen for the honour based on his outstanding work in turning teen-talents into potential world beaters in their age-group and beyond.
His best known student, R. Praggnanandhaa, 14, won the World under-18 title, became the Xtracon Open champion and jointly won the London Chess Classic in 2019. Divya Deshmukh, a two-time world age-group champion, won the silver medal and Rakshitta Ravi the bronze in the World girls (under-14) section.
Praggnanandhaa’s sister, R. Vaishali made a Grandmaster-norm in the Xtracon Open 2019. She is among the leading young female talents in the country.
Aravindh Chithambaram became the first Indian to simultaneously hold National titles in all three formats — Classical, Rapid and Blitz. In 2019, he regained the National title in the classical format.
Another example of Ramesh’s teaching skills when dealing with pre-teen children came to the fore when Bharath Subramanium became an International Master at the age of 11 years and 8 months.
On receiving the award, Ramesh said, “I am extremely happy to receive the Sportstar Coach of the Year award. It is a very satisfying award for me, personally, because we don’t have that many awards which recognise contribution of coaches in India. Coming from the prestigious institution like Sportstar and The Hindu , I’m doubly happy to receive this award.
“To receive the award with legendary P. Gopichand, badminton coach, it’s also very satisfying. The other two nominees for the award, Ravi Shastri and S. Raman, from cricket and table tennis, respectively, they are fantastic trainers themselves. So finishing ahead of them gives a lot of personal satisfaction.
There is a touch of nostalgia when the topic veers around Sportstar magazine. I remember the days when I used to collect all the centre-spreads of some of the great champions like Stephen Edberg and John McEnroe and great footballers.
I must say getting featured in such a magazine was one of the biggest motivating factors for many budding athletes in those days.
So, being named as best coach of the year along with the gentleman-chess player R. B. Ramesh is something which I will cherish and remember for a long, long time.
Personally, when it comes to coaching, I am glad that I am able to give back something to the sport despite facing a lot of adversity, initially.
This is where I always feel I am blessed because of the kind of family support I got from my parents, wife Lakshmi (herself a former two-time national badminton champion).
It has been a pretty good year with the high point being Sindhu crowned World champion and Sai Praneeth winning the men’s singles bronze.
It could have been better had some lead shuttlers shown greater consistency, especially the men.
Saina Nehwal has some issues because of her injury, but I am sure both Saina and Sindhu are potential medallists still. They have the experience, class and skill to be there on the podium.
But, as a chief national coach, I am not despondent.
I always believe in my players to raise the bar in the inter-continental meets and I am fortunate that each edition of these events produced a champion.
Getting this award for the year 2019 is something to be proud of. It is not that you are appreciated often.
There will be dissenting voices. But again, I am one of those who would love to plug the gaps, if any, rather than getting distracted.
My endeavour is to produce champions and I will continue to do so as long as I enjoy doing it. Right now, I just cannot think of staying away from my job, even if it means a lot of sacrifices, especially on the family front.
Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar, chess ace Vishwanathan Anand, The Hindu Publishing Group chairman N. Ram, former India hockey captain M. M. Somaya, Olympian shooter Anjali Bhagwat and Olympian shuttler Aparna Popat selected the deserving winners in categories involving young athletes, teams, coaches and parathletes.
The awards look to create a medium of knowledge and vision exchange as it brings all stakeholders of Indian sports under one roof.
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