His aim is to produce an Olympic medallist

Gopi Chand … enjoying his job as India’s National coach.-G. KRISHNASWAMY

Pullela Gopi Chand is set to become the first Indian to win all the National sports awards. However, right now his focus is on the World Championships. He says this is the best chance for both Saina Nehwal and Chetan Anand to prove their mettle. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Pullela Gopi Chand is in sight of a rare distinction in Indian sports. He is poised to complete a rare ‘treble’ — having already won the Arjuna and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awards, he is in line for the Dronacharya Award. However, his immediate focus is on the Yonex-Sunrise World Badminton Championships, to be held in Hyderabad from August 10 to 16.

“The timing of the Dronacharya could well be a huge inspiration for the trainees too and not just for me,” he said.

“Well, these awards may not necessarily mean that we will work that extra bit or mean a dramatic improvement in performance. Irrespective of these things, I continue to keep date with my daily rigorous training schedule without fail. For, I have a job on hand — to see that India wins a medal at the World Championships,” said Gopi, who was training his wards, including Saina Nehwal, Jwala Gutta and V. Diju, at his Gopi-Nimmagadda Academy in Gachibowli, near Hyderabad.

“I’ll put it this way. We don’t crave for these awards. But, yes, if they are denied when we expect them it does hurt and have a demoralising effect,” he said.

However, the former All England champion believes that the Dronacharya Award certainly means greater responsibility as a coach. “The award brings with it an element of stature to you as a coach. I can’t debate whether it has come too early or whether I deserve it at such a young age (at 35),” Gopi explained.

Gopi, who is now India’s Chief National Coach, expressed his sympathy for Satti Geetha, who missed the Arjuna Award. He said he could understand the agony of an athlete like her, a double Olympian and winner of quite a few medals at the Asian level, who is now desperately running around to see that justice is meted out to her. “The key point here is that if these Olympic medallists or say even Geetha don’t get it (Arjuna Award) now, I doubt whether they will get them in future. For instance, these outstanding athletes, obviously, will have to wait for three more years to repeat their feat which is not easy. So, essentially they should have been recognised for their efforts and not made to wait and repeat their performances,” Gopi argued.

Gopi, however, said that his ultimate goal as a coach is to produce an Olympic medallist. “I always consider an Olympic medal as the pinnacle of glory for any sportsperson,” he said.

“I am enjoying the job, there are no second thoughts about that,” he added.

Jwala Gutta & V. Diju are capable of causing an upset or two.-NAGARA GOPAL

Does Gopi feel the pressure of expectations in the wake of Saina Nehwal’s remarkable performances of late?

“I don’t think so. In fact, I tell the players not to invite pressure by thinking too much about the magnitude of the event. Just play your natural game and forget what happened in the recent past. Treat the World Championships as just another event. And, I am sure, players like Saina, Chetan Anand, mixed doubles pair of V. Diju and Jwala Gutta are experienced enough. They are not naïve to dream big and land in an unwanted pressure zone,” Gopi observed.

What then are the realistic chances for India at the World Championships?

“If everything goes well, both Saina and Chetan should at least reach the semifinals. This is the best chance for both of them in a World Championship. And, Diju and Jwala should be the players to watch out for — they are capable of producing champion stuff because of their wonderful chemistry,” said Gopi.

Gopi, a five-time National champion, is also the tournament director for the World Championships. Does that mean he will be burdened with his additional role as the coach of the Indian team?

“I don’t think so. Unlike the Indian Open last time in Hyderabad where I had to run around for almost everything, the world meet is a completely Badminton World Federation event which doesn’t require my attention full time. Mine is more of an advisory role, as the powers have been duly delegated to the committees to take care of various aspects,” said Gopi.