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The Champion who produces champions
Gopichand: Champion who produces champions
Pullela Gopichand was a champion before he started producing champions.He knows what it needs to reach the top. The 2001 All England champion, lost seven kilograms before he left for the Rio Olympics.Asked if he was not well, Gopi said: “No, it is because of training.“
The Dronacharya wakes up early in the morning, arrives at his academy by 3.454.00 and stays up till late in the evening. This was his schedule for most part of the last 12 years, since he decided to become the coach. And in the last two months, he forgot many times to take enough food or may be did not want to waste time on food.
“I am good like this. I need to stay in shape to play with the players and train them properly,“ he used to say .
After Gopichand won the All England he got injured and did not recover from that. It was then he realised that there was no proper system in India.Even an injury-rehab mechanism, which is a bare minimum for athletes, was not there in India. It was then he got determined to create such a system.
“I was shocked when we did not have a proper rehabilitation system in India. It was then that I thought of creating one. I don't want other players to suffer like me.My career was cut short because of injuries and I didn't want that to happen for others,“ he said.
The personal setback inspired him to create a world class academy in Hyderabad.His academy has everything.It took a Herculean effort for him to create that. But once that happened, the Sainas, the Sindhus, the Srikanths came. Now there is a hope that many more will come.
Sindhu got injured in January , 2015. Everyone thought that it was a minor injury . But by February , she was barely able to move her leg. But Gopi was there, playing the role of a doctor, a masseur and a caring elder .
As Sindhu was not able to move on court, Gopi decided to get something out of nothing.He placed a chair in the middle of the court and asked Sindhu to hit the shuttles from a sitting position. That helped Sindhu get some practice. And before every training session and after it he used to massage her leg -a sight one could never forget. A former All England champion, who had already achieved a lot as coach, still wants to help others as much as he could.It was this commitment that made him not the best coach but a great human being.
Pullela Gopichand's mission
How Gopi made Hyderabad India’s badminton capital
M Ratnakar | TNN
The Times of India 2013/08/11
Hyderabad: Pullela Gopichand’s unwavering commitment has made Hyderabad a powerhouse of Indian badminton, a factory which keeps churning out one promising player after another.
PV Sindhu’s bronze at the World Championships on Saturday was just the latest in a line of superlative feats achieved by players emerging from coach Gopi’s stable. In fact, this is a feat which has eluded even Saina Nehwal, who under Gopi has won close to 20 international titles, including a bronze at the Olympics. Then there are players like Parupalli Kashyap and RMV Gurusaidutt, who too have started registering impressive wins.
It’s a testament to Gopi’s unwavering commitment to his wards that Indian shuttlers have won more than two dozen international titles, at times even taking on undisputed giants China. The coach literally eats, sleeps and breathes the game. Just ask his wife, former player PVV Laxmi, or his mother Subbaravamma.
Gopichand owns a palatial house just four kilometers away from his academy, in the plush Jubilee Hills area here. But such is his focus and commitment that the chief coach of the Indian badminton team is seldom home during the day. He arrives at his academy at 4.15 in the morning and leaves the campus only after 7 pm.
Seeing his schedule and unwavering dedication, his worried family at some point decided to move to a rented house closer to the academy, so that Gopi could come home for lunch. But his mother and wife are still complaining.
This is the kind of dedication the 2001 All England champion has put in, in the process changing the face of Indian badminton. When he took over as chief coach in 2006, Gopi was given a four-year term with the aim of helping India do well at the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010. The results were phenomenal as the shuttlers bagged a rich haul of two gold, a silver and a bronze, an unheard of feat from India’s shuttlers till that point.
Even before the Commonwealth Games success, Saina Nehwal — who started training under Gopichand in 2004 — won several international titles. In fact, she became the face of Hyderabad’s badminton supremacy, a supremacy which began even before the Gopi era, when the city’s shuttlers were known for being successful at the national level.
They would, however, invariably falter on the world stage. Apart from Gopichand and Chetan Anand, not many made a mark on the international circuit. Thanks to Gopi, all that has changed. Today India has a bunch of players in the top 50 of the world rankings. A good number come from the Pullela Gopichand Academy.
With superior training and worldclass facilities at their disposal, the performance graph of the PGBA shuttlers has seen an upward curve. With eight international standard courts, a health club, a running track, swimming pool, rehabilitation and wellness centres, the academy has everything that a worldclass badminton player needs.
During his playing days, Gopi used to struggle to find good training centres and he realized the success of the Chinese, Indonesians and Malaysians was because of the vastly improved facilities at their disposal. For a player who lost most of his career to a leg injury, Gopi was determined to create a facility which could offer everything, including injury rehabilitation. He has done just that, that too in the short span of a decade.
But he did not have it easy. In 2003, the then-Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu gave him five acres of land on a 45-year lease. Gopi soon approached Yonex and a few others to construct the academy. Very few responded but a determined Gopi refused to relent.
One day, over a cup of coffee, businessman Nimmagadda Prasad — popularly known as ‘Matrix’ Prasad — surprised Gopi by offering him a donation of about Rs 5 crore.
Within four years, the Gopichand Academy had become operational. By this time all the top players had shifted to this academy. Gopi also faced stiff resistance from senior players like Jwala Gutta and Chetan Anand, who questioned his experience and credentials. In 2009, the YS Rajasekhara Reddy government threatened to take over a part of the five-acre land. Gopi was forced to go to court and an amicable settlement took quite a while. Then came the Prajakta Sawant controversy, with the doubles player accusing Gopi of spoiling her career.
Queried if he wanted to quit coaching then, Gopichand had said these controversies made him even tougher. As Gopichand once said, “I believe Indians are good athletes. The only problem is we don’t have facilities and a system in place. We have created a system and facilities here and that’s why we are getting great results.”
With everything — infrastructure, coaching, talent and financial support — in place, there is no reason why Hyderabad cannot keep producing more Sainas, Sindhus, and Gopis.
The Gopichand Academy
Flashback 1990: A young Pullela Gopichand was growing up in Hyderabad, hoping to become a top shuttler.But life wasn't easy -often he was provided with just one shuttle per day . Gopi and his contemporaries were strictly instructed not to play with hard hitters as the shuttle would lose shape. Forget other facilities like gym, rehab and quality coaches -players used to be delighted if they had one extra shuttle per day .
Gopi, who has shaped the career of PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, struggled for everything -from a proper racquet, shoes and quality shuttles. But whenever he went abroad for tournaments the facilities available for his opponents left him in awe.
Once Gopi hung up his boots, he was determined to change the scenario. He took to coaching in 2004 and much to the surprise of many , was appointed the chief coach of the Indian team in 2006. Many criticised him and some seniors refused to train under Gopi.
Undeterred by all these, the former All England champion started his coaching at makeshift venues but all the while he had a vision to get a world-class academy in Hy derabad. Things were not easy when he embarked on his mission. He had already got five acres of land on 45-year lease from the then chief minister of Andhra Pradesh N Chandrababu Naidu in 2003. But there was no money to construct an academy .Many of his well-wishers advised Gopi to come up with a small structure but he was in no mood to compromise and wanted to get a world-class facility at any cost.
He had many friends and fans but very few were ready to provide the finances.When his hopes were fading, he received an unbelievable offer from businessman Nimmagadda Prasad, who surprised Gopi with a donation of Rs 5 crore.
It was then that the dream start ed to take shape. The academy soon became operational by 2008. By this time all the top players including Saina Nehwal had shifted to his academy .
During his playing days, Gopi used to struggle to find a proper academy . He realised that the success of the Chinese, Indonesians and Malaysians had a lot to do with good facilities. He created such world-class facilities in Hyderabad that the Asian Badminton Confederation (ABC) nominated it as the Asian Training Centre. With eight international courts, a health club with gym, athletics track, swimming pool, wellness centre, ice-bath etc., everything is available at the academy .
In a bid to keep up with the demand, Gopi with the assistance of Sports Authority of India (SAI), constructed another academy , 500 metres away from the existing one in 2015. There are nine courts at the new venue.
Within a couple of years after he started coaching, Gopi started producing results.Saina won the first international title in 2006 and followed it up with many more. But very few know that Indian shuttlers fared well at various international meets. However, the phenomenal achievements of Saina Nehwal dwarfed others' feats.
Gopi never believed in creating just one Saina. He always concentrated and worked on creating the next line of players. And then came Gurusaidutt, PV Sindhu, Saurabh Verma, HS Prannoy , Sai Praneeth and Kidambi Srikanth. Sindhu used to show a lot of spark and caught the attention of the world when she took bronze at the World Championships in 2013. Gopi used to train both Sindhu and Saina together initially . But after sometime he realised things were not working and had prepared separate schedules for them. Gopi is helped in his endeavour by 15 assistant coaches. He also gets South East Asian support staff from various academies. A lot of focus is given to the fitness of the players.
TOP SINGLES PLAYERS FROM GOPI’S STABLE
Saina Nehwal: Olympic bronze medalist, has won about 20 international titles; best world ranking: 2.
PV Sindhu Bronze at World Championships and Malaysian GP Gold title; best world ranking 11.
Parupalli Kashyap: First Indian to make it to men’s singles Olympics quarters; Indian Grand Prix Gold title; best world ranking 6.
Kidambi Srikanth: First Indian to win Grand Prix title outside India; best world ranking 38.
Sai Praneeth: Shocked several top players like Taufik Hidayat; consistently reaching semifinals and finals of international events; best world ranking 37.
RMV Gurusaidutt: Won Tata Open and is ranked 20 in the world now.
HS Prannoy: reached finals of Bahrain Challenge; ranked 46 in the world now.
Arundhati Pantwane: won Bahrain Challenge; best world ranking 49.
Other talented shuttlers: Sikki Reddy, Aparna Balan, Arun Vishnu, Tarun Kona, Pranaav Chopra and Akshay Dewalkar have all qualified for World Championships in doubles.
From a mischievous, unfocused boy to a fearsome warrior, Kidambi Srikanth has taken difficult but bold steps forward. The spark was always there but it took a coach of the quality of Pullela Gopichand to rein in the restless spirit in him and hone his talent into a top-notch player who can battle with the best today .
Srikanth started playing the shuttle game with his brother Nandagopal in Guntur. But once Nandagopal joined the Gopichand Academy in 2008, Srikanth just stopped as he seemed to lose interest.His parents, however, be lieved in his talent and brought him to Gopi. That was the first big step.
“He came a lit tle while later af ter Nandu joined the academy. His father brought him and requested me to take him into the academy as he was not doing anything at home and simply wasting his time,“ Gopichand recalled. However, even after joining the academy, Srikanth did not get serious about his sport. “He was not serious about his training. He would always joke around, play pranks, have fun. He did not have any big aspirations as such. He came here just to be with his brother,“ Gopi said.
Initially, Srikanth played in both singles and doubles. He even won a medal in doubles at the Commonwealth junior events and seemed content with it. “Once he won medals in doubles, he stopped focusing on singles. I then took him away from doubles as he was not getting the results in singles. He resisted but I put my foot down and made him play only singles,“ Gopi said.
Srikanth's unorthodox style and natural strokes had caught Gopi's attention and the coach was keen to mould him into a singles specialist. “I always thought that he was a different type of player with a very unorthodox style. We can't teach and make people learn such type of shots. This type of game is more useful internationally .“ Gopi took some tough measures to turn Srikanth into a serious shuttler. “As he was a playful kind, I had to always shout at him to get things in order,“ he said. But how did Srikanth react when Gopi gave him a piece of his mind? “He is a good guy who blindly believed in me.Even his parents had full faith in me,“ the coach said.
Today, as Srikanth has emerged as a star, Gopi feels happy and vindicated.
Insisting on a non-vegetarian diet
[Indpaedia’s take: The Indpaedia volunteers on this section are heavy meat eaters—and some have acquired the painful condition called gout as a result. Indpaedia’s research indicates that most, if not all, of Haryana’s tall and brawny sportspersons are pure vegetarians, they stay away even from eggs. Like their meat-eating counterparts in the Punjab, Denmark and Australia, they get their massive brawn from milk, butter, malâi cream and ghee. Mr Gopichand can consider their example.]
Meat-Based Diet Made Mandatory For Shuttlers Training At Academy
At Gopichand's academy, you can't chicken out
Many shuttlers who got admission into the Pullela Gopichand Academy were vegetarians by birth such as Saina Nehwal and Parupalli Kashyap. An ardent follower of the Chinese and their training methods, Gopi felt that Indian food habits were affecting the performance.
He insisted that all shuttlers should at least eat chicken. This came as a shocker to many. But Gopi was able to convince them. It took some time for Saina to be convinced but she too followed suit and the results began to flow.
Badminton, it seems, is no longer a sport for vegetarians, although many shuttlers who got admission into the Pullela Gopichand Academy were just that.
Interestingly , Saina Nehwal, RMV Gurusaidutt, Parupalli Kashyap, Sai Praneeth -to name a few -had not eaten meat before joining. But the academy has a comprehensive programme on what a shuttler can and cannot eat.The diet is fixed and examined by Gopichand, who at times conducts surprise raids and checks the food that the trainees are eating.
An ardent follower of the Chinese and their training methods, Gopi realised that Indian food habits were affecting the performance of his wards. He soon insisted that all shuttlers should at least eat chicken. This came as a shock to many who had grown up on vegetarian diet.
But Gopi was able to convince them and they slowly started eating chicken. It took some time for Saina to be convinced but she too followed suit, and the results began to show. “Eating chicken is essential for the good supply of protein content. It also helps in losing weight and ensures essential supply of vitamins and minerals.Red meat also provides iron which helps to maintain the energy levels. It supplies amino acids which repair muscle tears that usually occur during strenuous training,“ said a member of the coaching staff, adding that many used to hesitate to become non-vegetarians.
“Some of the shuttlers were adamant. It required a lot of counselling to convince them but once they started eating, many of them loved it,“ he added.
However, the families of many shuttlers were not easily convinced. Some of the players, even, didn't divulge it to their relatives as it could create embarrassment within the family . But the success of Saina and Sindhu on world stage has proved that this little sacrifice in search of excellence was worth making.
Engineering PV Sindhu 2.0
- Sindhu's transformation has been gradual but evident from the time she recovered from a foot injury last year
- Gopichand and Sindhu have paved the way for Indian badminton
- The change in Sindhu could not have happened but for Gopichand's tactical nous
Under Gopichand, PV Sindhu has turned over a new leaf. (PTI)
PV Sindhu is quite the allrounder these days. From being a temperamental player who was content answering her impetuosity every time she stepped on the court, the 21-year-old Hyderabad girl now assiduously follows the gameplans devised by her coach P Gopichand+ . And on most occasions, she fine tunes them perfectly to suit the occasion.
Gone are the days when the 10th-ranked Sindhu endured roller-coaster form - bringing top badminton stars to their knees one day and losing to insignificant players the very next. Now, she would rather study her rival before devising a strategy to dominate her. If a stream of returns forced Japan's world No. 6 Nozumi Okuhara to capitulate in the semifinals of the Rio Olympics, a brilliant mix of long and short rallies silenced world No.2 Wang Yihan of China in the quarters.
Sindhu's transformation has been gradual but evident from the time she recovered from a foot injury last year. In the 2015 Denmark Open, one of the many tournaments she played on a comeback trail, she had beaten Tai Tzu Ying (Taipei), Wang Yihan and Spain's Carolina Marin before losing to Li Xuerui in the final. It is sheer coincidence that she bumped into two of them at the Olympics.
Sindhu had two big drawbacks to focus on post injury: one was upping her leg strength to last longer on the court. The second was her defence, which came apart when the returns were aimed at her body or when her opponent traded power for deception and slackened the pace. Apparently, her net game suffered the most in these circumstances.
In Rio, Sindhu showed that she had conquered these blips in the Yihan match. Quicker reflexes and anticipation first nipped the pace that the 28-year-old Chinese generated. Soon, it led to a steady flow of sharp returns before Sindhu began regularly exploring the corners. The deep tosses and flat shots set the tone for a rally before she counterattacked, drawing Yihan back and forth and to the far edges of the court. The half-chances were converted, the smashes and half-smashes cleverly mixed as rallies were prolonged only if she wanted. Sindhu had begun dominating with her midcourt supremacy so well that at one point, Yihan's short serves were swatted with a deft backhand for quick points. The Chinese was well and truly collared.
World No. 1 Marin too adopted a similar ploy in the final: searing pace like Yihan's, bodyline attack and deceptive net play which had to be neutralised. Sindhu tried her hand at counter-attacks too, knowing full well the top seed did not exactly relish such situations. But the pace -low, angular smashes from the southpaw that hugged the net - and the pressure was too much for Sindhu. Indeed, it was the forecourt where the match was won and lost.
The change in Sindhu - one who stuck to a toss-drop routine and a stinging smash at one point of time - could not have happened but for Gopichand's tactical nous. A player who grew up admiring the Chinese style of play and their training methods, Gopi has adapted them admirably to suit Indian players.
A punishing schedule, a healthy mix of training, practice and match exposure which virtually creates an automaton out of players have been his strengths. That Gopi devised a training module for Sindhu when she was injured - she worked on her strokes while seated on the court - shows how far he would go to help his trainees stay in touch.
Mother advised singing national anthem
Mother's advice turned out to be the most important motivation for Pullela Gopichand and Co. at the Rio Olympics. Disclosing this here on Monday , Gopi said that his mother had advised him to make the team sing the National anthem before their matches.
“People who watched Srikanth and Sindhu so motivated on the court kept on asking me what was the secret behind their attitude. We did a couple of things to get motivated. My mother told me to make everyone sing the National anthem before the matches. We did that and it was quite motivating. I also told the players that there are so many rich and influential people in the country , but, only very few people like us will get the opportunity to make the nation feel proud.Only sportspersons with their achievements unite the nation and bring that sense of pride,“ Gopichand said.
Around the same time in 2012 and at the same venue -Gopichand's academy -Gopi had a beaming Saina Nehwal seated next to him. Asked if Saina leaving his academy spur red him to produce a talent like Sindhu, Gopi said: “Whenever and whatever I ask of Sindhu, she does it. There is not a question asked. Sometimes, you have players who bargain, but not Sindhu. Whether I ask her to come at 4 am, or 6 am she is there. These kind of things motivate us a lot,“ Gopichand said.
Training Saina, Sindhu at separate venues
There can’t be two swords in a sheath, goes the saying. That’s quite the issue confronting National badminton coach Pullela Gopichand as he grapples with the task of training Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu at different venues.
TOI has learnt that the coach has been training Sindhu and Saina at separate academies over the last few days as they are no longer comfortable training together.
Ever since the team came back from CWG after winning a gold, Gopichand has been training them separately. When asked about the delicate situation, Gopichand said it was a decision taken by the coaching team. “In the interest of the players, our coaching team has taken this decision. I had earlier trained them in separate schedules. We do whatever suits the players best,” Gopichand said.
Under the new arrangement, Gopichand has to divide his time between the two academies. “I have no problem. Everything is going well and the players are also doing quite well,” Gopichand said.
Gopichand has two training centres — half a kilometre apart. Ever since the new academy came up a few years back, the singles players have been training there. And when Saina returned to Gopi’s academy last September, both the girls trained at the same venue, but not anymore. People in the know of things are not surprised by the development.
Many are of the opinion that the rise of Sindhu led to Saina’s exit from Gopichand’s Academy in Sept 2014. After a three-year stint with Vimal Kumar where she achieved the world No. 1 rank, Saina returned to Gopi last year. After her return, Saina rediscovered the spring in her step and has even defeated Sindhu. But all singles players practice at the other academy and Sindhu will miss sparring partners. However, her team has no complaints. “We are comfortable with the schedule. Her practice is going well, Gopi is allocating a lot of time for her. What more can we ask for?” said Sindhu’s father PV Ramana.
PVV Lakshmi, wife