New Delhi: Pullela Gopichand, who has coached Olympic medallist shuttlers Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, said on Monday that India can win a bagful of Olympic medals only if sports culture is built in the country through nurturing talent at the grassroots level.
Wrestler Sakshi Malik and Sindhu saved India the blushes at the Rio Olympic Games by winning a bronze and a silver respectively.
“We have come a long way since my playing days. There is a lot of government support these days but that is not going to give us medals. The help is there for top athletes but there is hardly anything happening at the grassroots,” Gopichand said.
“School sport is important. Unless we have a large pool of players playing different sports, it is tough to get more than an odd medal,” said Gopichand at a panel discussion.
“We have a huge population so that makes it all the more challenging (creating sports culture). We have far too many kids dropping out of the system and leaving sport midway,” he said at the discussion organised by ‘The Print’.
Sindhu, who was conferred with the Rajiv Khel Ratna earlier on Monday, was seated alongside her coach.
She revealed what went in her mind before she was assured of a medal by winning the semi-final match at Rio.
“I said it to myself that I got enough bronze (two in World Championships) and there was no way I am going to lose a semi-final again. I just wanted to win the semi-final and be assured of a better colour,” she said.
“Then in the final, I went with the mindset of winning against Carolina Marin. We have played each other many times and I beat her in Denmark last year so I was confident going into the match. But she played really well and was a deserving winner.”
Sindhu, who had done really well by beating three higher-ranked players en route to the final, went down against a more aggressive Carolina, who was screaming her lungs out during the high intensity summit clash.
“She is very aggressive,” remarked Sindhu, who doesn’t used to display her aggression early on but makes a conscious effort to do so now.
Gopichand said he had to work hard on making the usually soft Sindhu aggressive on court.
“She is a lot more expressive on court now but nowhere close to Carolina. Now I will make sure Sindhu gives it back to her harder the next time they play,” said the champion coach, who constantly pushed her to shout and play with aggression during her matches.
Gopichand further stressed that a smarter approach was needed to get more medals in the Olympics, something what Great Britain did by focusing on targeted sports to improve their medal haul.
Britain finished second ahead of China in the Rio Olympics medals tally.
“We need a smarter approach besides improving our grassroots. Medals are a by-product of number of people playing. The more the brighter the chances of a medal in any sport,” he said.
The coach then explained what worked for Sindhu in the Rio Olympics.
“The best part was that we were isolated during the Games. We could work on our plans in peace. Besides that, whatever we practised in the last three months it helped her eventually, barring the backhand cross court net shot which she got only two points after practising for 2.5 months,” Gopichand said in a lighter vein.
He said thanks to Sindhu he came closest to the feeling of winning an Olympic medal after missing out in Sydney in 2000.
“During her campaign, I was reminded of Sydney 2000. How I messed it up there. I wanted to make sure it did not happen with Sindhu. That’s why I was very keen that she won the semi-final rather than playing the bronze play-off.
“Her success also takes me back in time to the 90s. A lot has changed since then. I remember being in Birmingham for All England, I did not have the money to stay in the official hotel. I did not have proper food to eat. Thankfully a lot has changed for the better. Having said that, there is still a long way to go,” he added.