“It is the coaching which is vital. We must have a better system, somehow. We lack scientific training or proper coaching programmes at all levels, particularly grass root level,” said Pullela Gopichand in an interview with Rediff.com in January 2001. Gopichand won the prestigous All-England Championships in the same year and attained a career-best ranking of five.
What Gopichand really craved for was an Olympic medal but unfortunately couldn’t win in his playing career. As a coach though he has been instrumental in winning two medals for India at the Olympics. In 2012, Gopichand was the national team coach when Saina Nehwal scooped the bronze medal. PV Sindhu’s silver medal in Rio Olympics cements Gopichand’s legacy in the history of Indian sport.
It all started eight years back when his academy started fucntioning in 2008. Gachibowli in Hyderabad is an area where a lot of IT companies have built their offices. The Indian School of Business’ campus is also around. Amidst this corporate high-rises, a nondescript looking building is where Gopichand’s academy is situated. In the last eight years, India has seen the rise of many talented players like Parupalli Kashyap, Kidambi Srikanth, and they all have been coached by Gopichand. Both Srikanth and Kashyap broke into the world top 10 as have Nehwal and Sindhu.
Nehwal parted ways with Gopichand in 2014 and started training under former player Vimal Kumar. Gopichand had said that he didn’t hold any grudges or regrets and that Nehwal was “dear to him.” As a coach, he is supposed to be an innovator. Former national champion Arvind Bhatt calls him a hard task master who emphasises on fitness. “He is passionate about fitness and players being able to maintain their fitness levels,” says Bhatt.
Gopichand hasn’t gone out to find the new Gopichand or new Saina Nehwal. “He just wants to help players realise their potential and use their talent to the maximum,” says Bhatt. It hasn’t been an easy journey for him as there have been fall outs with players along the way. India’s doubles specialist Jwala Gutta shares a frosty relationship with Gopichand. There wasn’t any big fall out with Nehwal but their split did come as a surprise. Gopichand, though, has always spoken highly of Nehwal and even Nehwal has been complimentary about the huge role he has played in her career.
As a coach of both players, Gopichand has always had to deal with comparisons between Nehwal and Sindhu. In 2013 when Sindhu was just 18 years old, Gopichand had said that “both players have a great drive to work and push ahead”. He has seen them both at close quarters and pushed them hard to achieve their goals. In the last two editions of Olympics, it’s two wards of Gopichand who have done India immensely proud. He has never taken too much credit for changing the landcape of badminton in India. He retains that boyish charm but behind it lies a fierce coach who has been at the forefront of India’s Olympic glory.