The importance of being Gopi Chand

National chief coach Pullela Gopi Chand does a #10YearChallenge, reflects on India’s rapid in badminton through gems such as Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu over the last decade.

National badminton chief coach Gopichand with the selected shuttlers, who will train at his academy, in Mumbai on Monday.   -  AP

 

Pullela Gopi Chand loves staying away from social media, but even he has tales to tell when it comes to the #10YearChallenge. His stories, of course, revolve around badminton. They indicate how the game has evolved in the country in the last one decade.

He remembers how, in 2008-09, the doubles events at the state championships in Maharashtra had to be scrapped as there were not many participation from women shuttlers. “We did not have eight entries to fill a draw. We had to cancel the doubles because of lack of entries. That is where the numbers were and we had a real trouble,” Gopi Chand says.

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Fast forward to 2019 and the scenario is completely different. “Now, we have around 3,000 entries for tournaments. That’s the jump you have seen. The numbers have consistently grown. When I was playing, we had two-three courts during competitions, today you have 10-20 courts. There are draws, qualifications in juniors and sub-juniors, so that says it all,” the national chief coach says, while interacting with young talents at the IDBI Federal #YoungChamps programme on Monday.

Gopi Chand agrees that the rise has been quite phenomenal in the last one decade and he also credits the Premier Badminton League (PBL) for helping the sport take giant steps. “The sport has jumped in all parameters. Prakash (Padukone) sir played leagues in Denmark, Vimal (Kumar) played in UK, others have been to France, I have played in Germany and today, we host the biggest league in the world (PBL). Things have changed. We have (Carolina) Marin coming here to play, Viktor (Axelsen) coming here to play,” he says.

“The tournaments or the leagues which were happening in those countries over the years had to change their programmes because India was hosting the league. That is a (huge) change. The earnings of top players have gone up. They are encouraging a whole set of people to take the sport forward,” Gopi Chand says.

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That the sport is growing by leaps and bounds is evident by the fact that corporate organisations are coming forward to back badminton. The #YoungChamps programme is one such initiative. After receiving thousands of entries, seven talented shuttlers — Abhinav Garg, Naishaa Kaur Bhatoye, R. Spphoorty, Sakshi Prakash, Shanay K. Patel, Showrya Kiran, Vansh Dev — have been selected, after screening, as winners.

They will undergo full-time residential training for two years at the Pullela Gopi Chand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad.

And Gopi Chand promises that over the years, the numbers will only go up.

Olympic gold chances

With the rise in talent, India’s chances of faring well in next year’s Tokyo Olympics have also brightened, especially in women’s events.

“For a long time before these girls (Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu) came out, badminton was primarily remembered for men’s singles players, whether it is Nandu Natekar, Suresh Goyal, Prakash (Padukone) Sir, Syed Modi. The change to that happened with Saina (Nehwal). That was important, we needed somebody with that kind of push, hunger and will to win, because (being) the first person to come out and win is very difficult,” Gopi Chand says.

Gopichand with P.V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal (right).   -  FILE PHOTO/K.V.S. GIRI

 

“It is great to see what (PV) Sindhu has achieved — World Championship medal, Olympic medal and all other medals — and you can still look at her and say she has two Olympics to go at least and that is something fantastic,” the coach says.

While Saina and Sindhu have won bronze and silver medals at the London and Rio Olympics respectively, gold medal has eluded India and Gopichand hopes Tokyo breaks that jinx. “I think every year has been better (than the previous one). We had won a bronze in 2012 (London Olympics). In 2008 (Beijing Olympics) — the quarterfinal results was the biggest result. In 2012, we had the first-ever bronze. In 2016, we had the first-ever silver (in Sindhu) and hopefully in 2020, we will have the first-ever gold (medal)…,” Gopi Chand hopes.