Calcutta: As a player, he won the prestigious All England Championships in 2001. He has also been awarded with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, the Padma Shri and, more recently, the Dronacharya Award. But former shuttler Pullela Gopichand feels his list of achievements will be incomplete until one of his students go on to win an Olympic medal.
In the city to attend badminton clinics of the East Zone chapter of his academy, Gopichand said: “Winning the All England was great and receiving the Dronacharya was also a great honour… But I’ll be happiest the day one of my students goes on to win an Olympic medal.”
The 35-year-old was also of the view that the sport was on the right track in the country. “The scenes are very encouraging in India. At present, we almost have a top-20 player in each of the categories.
“We just need to graduate to the next level, and that’s very much possible. All we need is some fine tuning and focus on fitness,” he said.
“The profile of the game has definitely changed in the recent years. Nowadays, we organise one big event every year. We just had the World Championships in Hyderabad… So things are definitely looking bright,” Gopichand remarked.
But he had a word of caution, too. “We are competing with China. The Chinese system is so focused… They select a pool of players and train for almost 365 days of the year, under a number coaches. We need to be equally focused.”
“It should be a pyramidal system, with a broad base. The game at the grass root level should spread and develope,” he stated.
He also rued the fact that sport, in general, is not among the priorities of Indians, neither the common man nor the corporates. Speaking on the importance of getting sound infrastructure to nurture talent, he said: “Infrastructure is the key to success. Basic infrastructure is a must.”
Commenting on the status of the sport in the state, Gopichand said: “You see, badminton is mostly concentrated in the southern part of the country.
“There’s no dearth of talent in Bengal. Given the poor infrastructure they have to cope with, the kids are extremely talented.
“Facilities need to be better, at least the basic ones like wooden flooring and enough courts for training. If things improve, I don’t see why Bengal can’t produce champions.”
Asked how many marks he would give the state on infrastructure, he said: “Certainly less than five!”
On his most famous protege, Saina Nehwal, Gopichand said: “She is young and has a long way to go. Hopefully, she will achieve much more.”
He named three qualities — discipline, 100 per cent dedication and desire to win — as the factors, which have taken Saina to where she is.