Pullella Gopichand is not known for showing his emotions but the inspirational coach has shared the hurt he felt when his protege Saina Nehwal left his academy to join Prakash Padukone’s facility, something that rankled him a lot.
Gopichand also wondered why the legendary Padukone, India’s first badminton superstar never had anything positive to say about him.
In an upcoming book Dreams of a Billion: India and the Olympic Games, the former All-England champion and national head coach Gopichand spoke about the difficult times, also corroborated by Saina’s husband and former CWG gold medallist Parupalli Kashyap.
Gopichand in the book’s chapter titled Bitter Rivalry revealed how miserable he felt when Saina decided to join Padukone’s academy to train under Vimal Kumar in Bengaluru after 2014 World Championship.
“It was as if something very dear was being taken away from me. Earlier, I had literally begged her (Saina) not to go. But by then she had been influenced by others and had already made up her mind. While I didn’t want to hold her back and stall her progress, I knew this was something that wasn’t beneficial for either of us,” Gopichand revealed in the book co-written by sports historian Boria Majumdar and senior journalist Nalin Mehta.
The grapevine was that Saina believed that Gopichand was focussing more on PV Sindhu.
“Yes, I indeed had other players to look after and Sindhu had made serious progress in the two years between 2012 and 2014. But I had never intended to neglect Saina. Maybe I wasn’t able to convey this to her,” Gopi said.
But what hurt him more was the role he felt that Padukone, Vimal or Olympic Gold Quest official and former Olympian Viren Rasquinha could have played.
“Maybe Viren or Vimal or Prakash sir could have spoken to her. I don’t know why they didn’t. In fact, they encouraged her to leave Hyderabad. It is a mystery to me why Prakash sir has never said anything positive about me while I have always looked up to him as my role model,” said Gopi.
Saina had a harrowing time at the 2016 Rio Olympics where she lost in an early round and was carrying an injury for which she had to undergo surgery.
“It was clearly the worst phase in her life. She had lost early in the Olympics and it had wasted months and years of hardwork. Gopi sir wasn’t with her anymore and she was soon to have surgery to get things back on track... She didn’t really know what to do,” Kashyap recalled the tough times.
Saina reunited with her childhood coach after winning the 2017 World Championship medal, something her husband feels was important before she approached the coach to get back into the fold.
“My wife is a perfect Haryanvi Jatni, if you know what I mean. She is just too headstrong and proud. She desperately wanted to go back to Gopi sir and say sorry. She needed him badly but she was too stubborn to admit it and open to him.”
The book published by Harper Collins will hit the stands on January 20.