Not losing sight of the bigger picture

H. VIBHU

India’s chief national coach P. Gopi Chand is proud of the medals won by P. V. Sindhu (World Championship bronze) and Saina Nehwal (Olympic bronze). “These medals are bigger than any other award I got,” he says. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

He sounded very emotional, but at the same time expressed immense satisfaction over the performances of his players. India’s chief national coach Pullela Gopi Chand believes that he could not have asked for more from his trainees who brought laurels to the nation by winning medals at the Olympics (Saina Nehwal, bronze, 2012 London) and the World Championship (P. V. Sindhu, bronze, 2013 Guangzhou, China).

“Honestly, I am not surprised with these results. Firstly, the credit goes to these champion players and the kind of commitment shown by the support staff at the academy (Gopi Chand’s academy). Whatever training you give, it is ultimately the players who will have to deliver out there, execute the game-plan according to the given situation,” says Gopi Chand.

“These medals (won by Saina and Sindhu) are bigger than any other award I got; they are the reflection of real hard work despite facing all odds. I must thank my parents (Subash Chandra and Subbaravamma) who sacrificed so much and showed great commitment in helping me out,” says the 39-year-old Dronacharya Award winner, struggling to control his emotions.

What exactly does Sindhu’s bronze medal-winning performance mean to Indian badminton?

“I look at it this way: her success story is another reminder that despite many hurdles and even if you come from a middle-class family, you can reach the top in your sport if you have the commitment, put in the efforts and show the eagerness to improve. Sindhu has all these qualities; so does Saina,” explains Gopi Chand.

Did he expect Sindhu to win a medal at all?

“I was a little bit sceptical, not because I had doubts about her talent but because the draw was the toughest. And when she beat the defending champion, Yihan Wang, and the Asian Games gold medal winner, Shixian Wang, on successive days, I was pleasantly surprised. Having played the game at the highest level, I know how difficult it is to beat top players on consecutive days,” says Gopi Chand.

“Honestly, Sindhu played a remarkable game and the best part was that she did not show any nerves while facing such formidable opponents. This is why I always felt she was the next best bet after Saina,” he adds.

Another one from Gopi's stable. P. V. Sindhu proudly shows the bronze medal she won in the World Championship to the chief coach Gopi Chand.-V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

On Sindhu’s defeat in the semi-finals to the eventual champion, Ratchanok Intanon, Gopi doesn’t attribute it to any pressure factor. “I don’t think it was pressure. We should not forget that Ratchanok played an extraordinary game, never allowing her opponent to settle down. And the fact that she even beat the Olympic champion, Li Xuerui, in the final was proof of her great talent. I just take Sindhu’s loss as one of those things that any sportsperson has to face. But be ready for bigger results in the days to come,” the chief national coach says.

It has never been easy for Gopi Chand as a coach, given the frequent battles he was engaged in, both with some leading players and the bureaucracy. It was a phase that clearly rattled the former All England champion, but it did not dampen his spirit. “Now, when I look back, I stand justified. Not just because of the results of a Saina or a Sindhu but the fact that there are seven men and two women from India who are ranked among the top 50 in the world today. This was almost unthinkable even a couple of years ago,” he says.

Talking of his next target, Gopi Chand says: “We have already started preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympics. A long-term planning is in place. It is not that we go to a tournament, come back, relax and then prepare. Every event is part of the bigger goal — to see an Indian badminton player win the Olympic gold in Rio. I am confident of realising it.”

What gives Gopi Chand greater satisfaction — Saina’s Olympics bronze or Sindhu’s World Championship bronze?

“I am proud both are my trainees. And both are historic feats from the Indian perspective — trendsetting results. I only wish many more talented youngsters try to emulate them,” he says.

The chief national coach also faces a peculiar problem of handling the key players in major events almost simultaneously. How does he feel about it?

“This is a new issue for me as a coach, but I am obviously delighted as it reflects the growing stature of Indian badminton players. It is, no doubt, difficult to handle them all simultaneously, as it happened during the World Championship. I had to keep an eye on Kashyap’s match on the adjacent court even while focussing on Saina,” Gopi Chand explains.

“Hopefully, they will be more independent in the days to come given their experience and exposure. Still, in a World Championship, small aspects and minor shifts in strategy can be analysed from outside easily and passed on to the players. That is where we have some influence,” he adds.