Parupalli Kashyap on Thursday threw light on his journey to excellence in the field of badminton, highlighting the challenges he faced along the way.
Kashyap rose to prominence with his bronze at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. At the 2012 London Olympics, he beat Niluka Karunaratne to become the first male shuttler from India to reach the quarterfinal at the Games. “It was not just tough being a part of Olympics, but the entire qualification process was challenging,” Kashyap said during a panel discussion titled ‘Gunning for Olympic Glory’ at Sportstar’s Sports Conclave - Focus Telangana here on Thursday.
“It [The qualification process] lasted for a year and began a year before the Olympics. Every year, ranking points have to be defended. I was in the top 10 since 2011, and I had to defend all my points from last year, making it a difficult task. In July, my sister passed away. During the qualification period, I did not play an event for almost three months.
“Although I was far ahead in rankings compared to the rest, my close compatriot played extraordinarily well and caught up with me. We had been competing since our under-13 days and fought for a place in the World Junior Championships. We had also played the National championships final together and used to share rooms. It was a tough race, but I felt lucky to have qualified for India. This journey was one of the best experiences of my life. I learned a lot during the qualifying period and got closer to my family. I suppose I was fortunate and made a few more points than my compatriot. Coach Gopi sir (Pullela Gopichand) ensured that I understood the responsibility that came with qualifying, so I changed my training and routine.
“I became more responsible and wanted to prove that India is good in badminton. I felt that men’s singles were being represented, and I wanted to prove myself. Despite having a tough draw, I beat all three players who I had lost to in the past four months. Gopi sir told me that I belonged there, and only after I returned did I realise that I had achieved something good.”
Kashyap was joined by Gagan Narang, who has been one of India’s most illustrious shooters, with medals at the 2012 London Olympics and Commonwealth Games. He continues to give back to the sport with his Gun for Glory Academy here in Hyderabad, giving wings to shooting aspirants. Gagan spoke about his tryst with history at the London Games.
“This was my third time at the Olympics. I first participated in Athens when I was only 21 years old. It was like going to a toy store where you see so many legends, and you wonder where you have come! The second time, I was the world No.1 and was the favourite, but things did not go as planned. There were five of us who shot 595, but I finished 9th despite having the same score as the other four. It was heartbreaking, and my mother was hospitalized. But my support system encouraged me to prepare for the next competition, which was the World Cup where I shot a world record score of 600/600. So, I made my comeback in London. I had heard stories that 70% of shooters win in their first Olympics, and I was afraid I belonged to the 30% who don’t. It was tough, and I couldn’t take another setback. You are not the only one playing; everyone is playing with you. Your entire support system is playing with you, and everyone who has sacrificed something is rooting for you. But I knew this was my last chance. The challenge was to step out and be in the zone.
“We went to the venue in London and knew how the range was. I said I wouldn’t start until I was settled down. So, you start with sighters. It starts at 9 and lasts one hour and 45 minutes. At 9:30, I shot my first shot, which was a record. You have to calm your nerves down. I had to control my heartbeat and mind. Even your nails start to sweat at the Olympics. I shot 100/100 and again on the next two series. The 48th shot was the toughest shot of my life. In Athens, I shot 8.8 on the 48th shot and missed the final. In Beijing, I shot 8.8 again and missed the final. This time my heart was beating like crazy, and I had to take a break three times, but I was able to shoot a 10.7, and I said, “ chalo, there’s one monkey off my back.” The next hurdle was the last 18 shots. I saw the clock with 13 minutes left. I was taking my time, but I told myself that if I had to win the Olympics, I had to shoot 598. I was already two shots down, which meant that I was on 598 and couldn’t miss more. The difference between 9 and 10 is a hair’s breadth wide. From 10m away, you have to shoot a dot. Then the clock started ticking. The last shot is the make-or-break shot. You don’t let go till the last shot. My pulse was beating so fast. I had to take a break again, but I calmed myself down and shot a 10.8 with eight seconds left to get to 598. After that, I said, “I can call myself an Olympic finalist.” I was number three, but the final was going to be tough because you have ten shots, and in those, you have to fight.
“So I had a Chinese guy next to me and an Italian. The Chinese was slightly shorter, and I was looking over him. I was trying to shoot, and I saw that I was third. So I said, “ Beta, thoda defensive hoja (Get a little defensive) as the attack is not working.” So I wanted to defend my third position. Normally, shooters do not look at the standings, but I wanted to give myself a different kind of challenge. So I started seeing the score and saw the Chinese catch up. So I changed my strategy to plan B. I said to myself, “Let me see what he shoots, and then I will.” On the last shot, he understood. He was waiting for me to shoot first. You have 45 seconds to shoot. He was waiting and wanting to run me out of time. I was 0.3 ahead. If he shoots a 10, and I shoot 9.7, I win. So I picked up my rifle and said, “okay, let’s go.” From the corner of my eye, I saw 10.0, and I said, “chalo that’s fine,” and shot 10.7. Bronze medal jeet gaye ab chain ki saans lenge (I’ve won the bronze so I can take it easy). The effort in this was more than 800 days. Any athlete wants the first medal to be gold. For most, the Olympics are once in four years, but for us, it’s every day.”
Narang and Kashyap then weighed in on whether their previous successes have laid the way for a stronger and more efficient India on the global sporting landscape. Gagan said, “We are in a better place today. We are on the cusp of a revolution. The interest we are seeing today is unprecedented. It’s important to understand that not only are athletes like Neeraj Chopra and PV Sindhu winning, but even the support staff, like the guy cleaning the floor, are also benefiting from the growth of the sports industry.
“While there’s always a need for more support, the kind of influx being generated is immense. If we continue on this path, there will come a time when India will be a fierce competitor in sports.”
Kashyap for his part drew parallels between his Worlds outing in 2013 and HS Prannoy’s recent bronze medal-winning effort at BWF World Championships.
“We have come a long way in Indian badminton. I was part of the first batch of the national camp where we trained for six months. After that, we had only one coach and a team of 10-15 people travelling with us. Unlike other teams, we did not have enough funding to play 15-20 tournaments. During the 2012 London Olympics, our entire team had only one physio. The physio of the badminton team was also taking sessions with boxers and wrestlers. It was tough for us as we did not have anyone to attend to our needs. However, things have improved a lot since then. We now have two physios dedicated to badminton itself,” Kashyap said.
“Recently, HS Prannoy won a bronze medal at the World Championships. It reminded me of my time in 2013 when I went in as number six, but I didn’t have a coach in the quarterfinals. After Prakash (Padukone) sir, no one had won a medal at the Worlds. I lost from match point up, and it was frustrating. Saina (Nehwal) was playing at the next court, and Gopi sir (Pullela Gopichand) was sitting there. I could see the difference between then and now with Prannoy. It makes a huge difference when a coach is there in crucial moments.
The system has improved, but more needs to be done. It is disheartening when we have so many athletes, but only a few medals. We need to be in the top two or three. When I see athletes from other countries, I realize that our guys are more motivated. The others are relaxed because they have a system in place, and everything is working around them. We are always worried about sponsorships and funding. I have experienced that myself.”
Wishlist from government and corporates
Kashyap: “Seniors in the sport are receiving adequate support and care. However, from an Olympics perspective, it is imperative to extend more support to the upcoming generation. I have noticed that countries like China and Japan send around 20-25 singles players for 20 tournaments in a year, and they all work together and compete against the best. This approach has helped them to perform well at big events. I believe we can implement a similar approach in India, especially for the under 19s and under 17s, so that they can have exposure and experience before they reach the age of 24. This would require proper funding and coaching.
Moreover, coaches need to be paid and respected more in India. They have to take care of multiple things, and their work is not appreciated enough. As a result, people are not motivated enough to take up coaching as a profession. Even former players have their own academies because there are not enough incentives to coach for India. The coaching system needs to be improved to ensure that coaches feel valued and motivated to train future athletes.”
Gagan: “I don’t agree with the notion that India has not won as many medals as China and the USA because there are more people in the country. This is not a fair comparison. For instance, Kenya wins more medals than India, but only in limited sports. India, on the other hand, has won medals in numerous sports. We have a diverse playing field, and we just need to make a few changes to improve. That’s what operational excellence is all about. Our system has produced results, but it’s time to optimize it.
The base of our pyramid needs to be wider, and the corporates must ensure that the benefits trickle down to all levels. In the USA, the entire system is corporate, while in China, it’s entirely government-controlled. We have both types of systems.”
The Conclave is being held in association with Hero We Care — a Hero Motocorp CSR Initiative, Carrera, Indian Oil, ISBC, NTPC, Khan Study Group, KPMG, Sprint Diagnostics, Sneha Fresh Chicken, Great Sports Tech, Epione and NewsX. The day-long event can be followed live on sportstar.thehindu.com.
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