Hyderabad: Pullela Gopichand is unfazed. He has made up his mind. For the first time since 2008 Beijing Olympics, Gopichand will not don the mantle of coach for the quadrennial event. The 47-year-old chief national coach said he honestly, however, did have a very small role for the Tokyo Olympics as the team has top foreign coaches who have been appointed for the players.
“I think it is important for these foreign coaches to work with the players. It would not be good on my part to interfere and accompany the team to Tokyo since these coaches are continuously taking care of their respective players. On my part there is that element of support and encouragement,” said Gopichand, who was instrumental in building India into a powerhouse in world badminton over the years.
Reminiscing about his early days of his role as coach, Gopichand said Indian badminton team didn’t have many resources then. “I had to double up as singles, doubles coach and had to do multiple roles. Today there is a strength and conditioning coach, physio, and personal coaches. Now the situation is different. The government and Sports Authority of India (SAI) are giving support to each dedicated player. I’m happy that badminton has reached a stage where resources are available to the players,” he said.
Gopichand revealed that he wanted to focus his time on the younger generation of players. “For the last few years I worked in this direction to let go the top players as they need you too to travel. Now it is time to concentrate on the second string which needs all the attention.”
But as Indian coach, he is immensely satisfied as India could win medals at Olympics, Worlds, Asian Games or Commonwealth Games.
“Actually I’m very happy that Hyderabad has become the nerve centre for Indian badminton. We were nowhere even in South Zone competitions until the early 80s. Today, when Prime Minister Modi says that Hyderabad is famous for pearls and badminton, I feel proud.”
Coming to the prospects of Indian players, Gopichand said it is a tough draw for Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty in the men’s doubles. “I wish it would have been easier. But if you intend to win a medal it is better to play tough players early. But they are much-improved players and are capable of doing well. They can eye for the second slot and qualify.”
Gopichand pointed out B Sai Praneeth is a much-improved player and winning a bronze in World Championship was a no small feat. “He has consistently improved in the lockdown. There is a lot of confidence in his game. He has become stronger physically and mentally. He has the potential to win a medal although the men’s singles is very tough as the players are physically very strong. If he gets into a rhythm, he has a good chance but it all depends on the conditions.”
The chief coach believes Sindhu has a very strong chance to win a gold medal after Carolina Marin’s injury. “Tai Tzu Ying, Chen Yu Fei and Marin were the biggest contenders. In the absence of Marin, Sindhu’s chances have brightened. She is a strong contender for the gold medal.”
Talking about Sindhu’s silver-medal journey in 2016 Rio Olympics, Gopichand said it was a big challenge then. “No one saw her coming. Ideally, I thought Saina was also a bright prospect in 2016. But I think she messed up in the run-up to the Olympics and luckily we could manage good preparations for Sindhu. She was a surprise element.”
On constant criticism against him, Gopichand merely said: “It is jealousy. But I take it in my stride.”
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