Hyderabad: Love him or hate him. But one cannot ignore Pullela Gopichand, who has an incredible record as coach in all major tournaments, including Olympics, World Championships, Asian Games or Commonwealth Games. For the first time after the 2008 Beijing Games, the familiar figure of Indian sport will be missing in the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics.
The 47-year-old Gopichand opted out to ensure Agus Dwi Santoso could be accommodated who has been training with B Sai Praneeth since the pandemic, according to BAI General Secretary Ajay Singhania. The decision was on the cards because of strict Covid-19 protocols and an allotted quota of 33% to support staff alone that needed to be adhered to.
If Indian badminton had reached a new high in the last 13 years it is because of Gopichand, who excelled as coach. Players like Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth, B Sai Praneeth, Parupalli Kashyap reached dizzy heights under his guidance.
Sanjay Sharma, the former Indian international, said that if India has become a powerhouse of world badminton then the credit should go to Gopichand. “I rate him as one of the best coaches in the world. Yes there has been criticism against him of late but one cannot overlook Gopichand’s big role as Indian coach. He revolutionized the coaching system in the country. He has a phenomenal record as coach. His touch in this Olympics will be missed,’’ said Sharma.
The greatest victory for Gopichand, according to Sharma, was that he took on the might of the Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans and the Japanese.
“At least till the early 2000, we had this Chinese phobia but Gopichand changed the script as players like Saina, Sindhu or Srikanth beat the demons with fearless and aggressive game. There was new belief in the Indian team. He rightly pointed out that it was not all about skills. So he brought in speed, power and endurance by emphasising on fitness. It worked like magic as Indian players began to win big matches in the Olympics, Worlds or Asian Games. India became world beaters,’’ added Sharma.
Sharma felt Gopichand is a good reader of the game. “His on-court knowledge or tactics is always of the highest order. He could lay out new strategies and more importantly he brought a sense of discipline in the coaching system.
“Gopichand followed the Chinese or Korean system. He firmly believed, if we benefit, why not. If today’s players have benefitted because of modern facilities then Gopichand brought that X-factor into Indian badminton. In our playing days we couldn’t afford good shuttles but Gopichand changed that perception. Even the academy concept was started by him. One cannot wish him off.’’
Sharma concluded by saying: “Gopichand is the top sportsperson. If he is out because of the quota system, I would suggest the Sports ministry take him as one of the delegates. His presence can help Sai Praneeth at least.”
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