GOPICHAND, Pullela biography
Only the second Indian to win the All England Open Badminton Championships, former Olympian Pullela Gopichand is the coach who helped both Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu to their Olympic medals.
Gopichand's triumph at the prestigious All England Open Badminton Championships in 2001 was the crowning moment in what was an injury-riddled career cut short due to chronic knee problems.
“Looking back, I am happy with what I have achieved. Given the circumstances, I don’t feel that I have left anything untried,” summed up the former Indian badminton player.
Despite the multiple operations on his knee, Pullela Gopichand was for years the bright hope of Indian badminton before his legacy-defining win at the turn of the millennium.
From 1996, he was Indian national badminton champion five years in a row and clinched silver and bronze for India at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in the men’s team and men’s singles respectively. He was consequently conferred the Arjuna Award the following year.
Known for his aggressive style, Pullella Gopichand made his only Olympic appearance at Sydney 2000.
After getting a bye in the first round, the Indian shuttler faced Vladislav Druzchenko of Ukraine in his first challenge that witnessed some long rallies. Then, facing off against Hendrawan, the second seed and eventual silver medallist, in the pre-quarterfinals, the Indian, playing with a swollen knee and high temperature, went down 9-15, 4-15.
The end of his Olympic dream hit Pullela Gopichand hard. Dejected, he spent the entire day locked up in his room.
Six months later in Birmingham, however, he was celebrating. He had upset the 2000 Olympic gold medallist Ji Xinpeng of China in the second round of the All England Open to pave his way to glory.
The shuttler from Andhra Pradesh then went past Danish players Anders Boesen and world no. 1 Peter Gade in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively and capped it all by upstaging China’s Chen Hong in the final to lift the trophy.
It was the first time since Prakash Padukone – one of Pullela Gopichand’s mentors – who had won the prestigious trophy in 1980 that another Indian had staked his claim on the title.
While success at the Olympics evaded him during his playing career, Pullela Gopichand has gone on to live his Olympic dream through considerable coaching success.
After retiring from the game, Pullela Gopichand was named the coach of the Indian national badminton team, kickstarting the second innings of his career. He launched the Gopichand Badminton Academy in 2008 by mortgaging his house and received backing from a prominent industrialist.
As it turned out, Pullela Gopichand delivered on that promise just four years later by coaching Saina Nehwal – a product of his academy - to the bronze medal at the London 2012 Games.
Rio 2016 yielded yet another medal in badminton – this time in the form of a silver for PV Sindhu – another prodigious talent to have come up through Gopichand’s academy.
The Gopichand Badminton Academy, in fact, has become a pipeline for talent in Indian badminton, having produced Srikanth Kidambi, Parupalli Kashyap, H.S. Prannoy, Sai Praneeth, Sameer Verma and Jwala Gutta, besides the two Olympic medallists, within a short span of time.
A coach with a high work ethic similar to that in his playing days, Pullela Gopichand is the current chief national coach of his country as he continues to nurture the future of Indian badminton.