This piece is a birthday tribute to super coach Pullela Gopichand whose birthday falls Friday. Let us rewind some of the events of his life as a player and then as a coach.
As a player, Gopichand continued in the footsteps of badminton greats such as Nandu Natekar, Prakash Padukone and Syed Modi. Gopichand was the next big badminton player from India. Born at Nagandla, Prakasham district in Andhra Pradesh, he was destined for stardom. A serious multiple ligament rupture at 13 could not stop him. His brother too was a terrific badminton player and defeated him in finals of State schools tournament. However, his brother was a brilliant student as well and qualified the tough IIT exams and stopped playing. Gopichand says that he too had tried for IIT but could not get through. That proved lucky for him as he focussed on badminton.
Gopichand also had a career-threatening injury at just 21 when he needed to be operated after an on-court collision. However, despite odds, he came back. At 23 he became National Champion and repeated the feat 5 times. His crowning glory was becoming only the 2nd Indian after Prakash Padukone to win the All England Championship. He defeated World Number 1 Peter Gade in the semi-finals and a higher ranked Chen Hong of China in the final.
Gopichand won 5 International titles including the All England and was world number 5. One of his titles came against an Indian opponent Siddharth Jain, considered one of the best defensive players in the country. Siddharth used to say that Gopichand’s hallmark, apart from his deceptively and amazing on-court intelligence was his ability to play five different strokes with the same action. He also praised his stamina and said that he was at his best in tough 3 game matches since he had terrific stamina.
It is as a coach though that Gopichand has reached greater heights. The beginnings were tough. He had no money and spent all his savings and even mortgaged his house. Reportedly industrialist Nammagadda Prasad of Matrix laboratories gave him a 5 crore loan and said that if Gopichand could assure an Olympic medal, the loan would be converted into a grant.
Well, Gopichand has already achieved not just one Olympic medal from his students but two already. Saina Nehwal won bronze in 2012 and PV Sindhu won silver in 2016. Can we expect Gold in 2020. Why not? Surely Gopichand and his wards will be hard at work to try and achieve this dream for the country.