At Pullela Gopi Chand’s badminton academy in Hyderabad, there’s no justification for defeat. He keeps with himself a list of “excuses for losing”, which includes: “The linesman was cross-eyed”, “I wore new shoes”, “I have a sprain”, or “I didn’t sleep well last night”. The message for Gopi Chand’s 150 trainees is clear: Use excuses at your own peril.
“No one is spared,” Gopi Chand, 39, says, “not even myself. Everyone here knows what needs to be done, how much work has to be put in, and that it needs to be done no matter how hard it is.”
This single-minded focus has made the 2001 All England champion into the most formidable badminton coach in the country, impatiently hacking through the odds to script a shining story of success. He’s coach to Saina Nehwal, who became the first badminton player from India to win a medal at the Olympics, in a year in which she also became the highest paid athlete in the country (excluding cricketers). He’s coach to P.V. Sindhu, the lanky 17-year-old prodigy who’s already started making rapid inroads into world badminton. Of the 12 women’s and men’s singles players from India ranked in the world’s top 100, 11 come from his academy. At this year’s Senior National Badminton Championships, every category was won by a player from his academy. Three of the losing finalists were his students too. That this compact training school, easy to miss among the gigantic and swank IT complexes which surround it, has produced every single badminton champion in India this year is almost unbelievable.
“That makes me happy,” says Gopi Chand, “but not by much. For me, these are only signs that we have a lot of responsibilities for the future, lots of work to do.”
Even Nehwal’s victories are mere markers for what Gopi Chand and his team are doing right, and what they’re not. There’s just no time to gloat.
“If you want to be good, there is no place for complacency, or even democracy for that matter,” he says. “You need a strong mind to survive in sports, because there’s no normal life here. It’s just train, eat right, rest, recover, compete.”
What excites him most about this year is the rise of Sindhu, who is already ranked world No. 24 in women’s singles.
“We’ve got at least four fantastic 13-year-olds training right now as well,” says Gopi Chand. “That is the dream. Not one Saina Nehwal, but many. In the next four to five years, it is possible that we will be the second superpower in badminton after China.”