A dream realised

Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal and her coach Pullela Gopi Chand on arrival home in Hyderabad.-M. SUBHASH

Pullela Gopi Chand is over the moon following Saina Nehwal’s bronze medal win. “I think my life would have been incomplete without this medal,” he says. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

A beaming Pullela Gopi Chand was too discernible to be ignored as he returned home with the Olympic bronze medal winner Saina Nehwal. Not since he won the All England Championship in 2001 did one see Gopi so delighted.

“Honestly, the Olympics provided me the ultimate satisfaction. It is a dream for any coach. Saina winning a medal, Kashyap (Parupalli) entering the men’s singles quarterfinals,” said the 39-year-old chief National coach of badminton on arrival home.

Gopi reminded that the most decisive phase in his partnership with Saina came in 2011 which, he believes, changed their attitude and forced them to set fresh goals.

“I remember, after the Denmark Open in 2011, after Saina lost to a Thai girl, she was crying inconsolably and her eyes (were) swollen. She was saying that something had to be done and I was a bit taken aback. Then I promised that we will target an Olympic medal. We then embarked on a journey which is now history — a saga of sacrifices and rare commitment from her,” he explained.

“And, it was a huge challenge later as we went about trying to realise that goal. I had no outings when Saina was in Hyderabad. I did not watch a movie in the eight months preceding the London Olympics. The TV at home was shut and my wife (former National champion Lakshmi) ensured that I woke up in time at 4.30 a.m. for the daily training schedule at my Academy,” Gopi said.

Those who regularly visited the Gopi Chand Academy in Gachibowli would know how much of an effort he put in to see that Saina peaked at the right time for the London Olympics.

“Well, the two big wins in the Thai Open and the Indonesian Open were just what the doctor ordered,” Gopi said. “It was just a question of hard work and making some minor adjustments to her game. And I tell you, she responded in a wonderful fashion. She really pushed herself the extra yard and the result is there for all of us to see. She never missed a day’s training during Olympics preparations,” he added.

Saina was quick to acknowledge her mentor’s contribution. “There are many I want to thank for this Olympic medal, and the first one is Gopi Sir. I know the sacrifices he made and I am grateful to him,” she remarked. Gopi’s joy was evident when he said, “I think my life would have been incomplete without this medal. I am fortunate that I could win an Olympic medal (as a coach) in my lifetime. Honestly, I think Saina has a minimum of about eight years more in the international circuit. The greatest thing is she is still young (only 22 years). So she can play in a minimum of eight All England Championships, four World Championships, two Asian Games, two Commonwealth Games and two more Olympics.”