The Pune District & Metropolitan Badminton Association was conducting a training course for grass-root coaches from the adjoining districts back in 2011 under the guidance of Vasant Gore. On the first day of the course, the veteran trainer kept a couple of them waiting courtside for considerable time as they had turned up in shirt and trousers and were not dressed for the occasion.

The octogenarian, who died at 85 on Wednesday night after a prolonged battle with cancer, was a hard taskmaster who focused on the right technique and footwork of his players. However, one of the most popular coaches in the Pune badminton circle was never really a well-known figure outside the state. The reason? He always advised his players to move on to better facilities and coaches once they reached a certain level as the court as Bal Bhavan had a concrete flooring.

Gore sir, as he was popularly known, was responsible for moulding the careers of senior national champions Manjusha Pawangadkar-Kanwar, Trupti Murgunde and Aditi Mutatkar apart from a large group of national level players from their formative years and continued to be their mentor even after they moved to bigger academies or shifted focus to academics.

Born in Lahore, Gore played competitive cricket in his younger days and his badminton playing experience was restricted to games with a group of like-minded individuals as a recreational activity after returning from his bank job. But he was passionate about coaching youngsters and started it as a hobby.

He made up for his lack of playing experience with a keen eye for learning and would teach the kids from the basics of holding the racquet correctly, to tenaciously working on their footwork till they got it right.

Explaining the role Gore played in her life multiple national champion Kanwar said, “I was a very skinny girl with thin legs when I started playing badminton. Everyone said that I could never play at the big level.”

“Then Gore sir came and he gave me hope. He taught me discipline, taught me footwork. He actually made sandbags so that I could wear them and do shadows,” said the four-time women’s singles national champion who first received formal coaching when she was 13 years old.

The unique feature of most players who learnt the ropes under Gore was the near-perfect technique, footwork and discipline, which was instilled in them from their formative years.

Kanwar remembered how he taught her the importance of discipline soon after she had won the double crown in the senior nationals. “I came back to Pune after winning the women’s singles and doubles crown at the 1992 Madras Nationals and went to Maharashtra Mandal hall. I thought the players and sir will give me a grand welcome.

“Gore sir just saw me with the corner of his eye and asked me why I was late and then told me to take the mop and clean the courts. I was so angry but I had no choice. Then he made me give practice to beginners... Then after all this when all players went home, he sat down with me, congratulated me and said he was proud of me,” she added.

In that sense, Gore was an old-school teacher who could never tolerate any indiscipline on the court but was a father figure outside it.

Murgunde insisted that despite not playing badminton at the highest level, he had a keen eye of details and should be looked at as a role model on how to coach beginners.

“He was keen to learn and never worried about players going to other coaches. By 10, I was already the state champion. He had only one court at Bal Bhavan and that also was concrete one. He told me to move to PDMBA where there are wooden courts once they started the coaching scheme,” she added.

Former junior national champion Nishad Dravid owed his success to the coach because of that. “I had an issue with my stepping to the backhand drop corner. In the last lunge, my foot used to land a bit crooked which would have caused a potential injury. Gore sir recognised this issue and corrected it by working on it for almost two weeks,” said the Dhule-born shuttler who would come to Pune only for summer camps along with his brother.

Dravid quit competitive badminton soon after turning senior as he went on to become an engineer. He made a comeback in his 30s and even made it to the Maharashtra team in the doubles events and was often a treat to watch even after being away from the game for so long.

Another player to go on to become women’s singles national champion from the Bal Bhavan stable was Aditi Mutatkar. She had started playing badminton in Mumbai and began training with Gore only after her parents moved to Pune. But she believes that the few years she trained under him made a major difference to her approach towards the game.

“He always focussed on one stroke, one routine at a time. He used to make a box in every corner of the court and till I didn’t play the decided amount of lifts or drops etc in that box he didn’t let me get to the next stroke. He used to make me hit the same stroke 100 times,” she wrote in her blog back in 2011.

Even after Mutatkar, Murgunde and others moved to PDMBA for advance training, the coach would come and sit among the spectators and watch them play and interact with them. He continued coming to the courts and watch matches till ill health made it impossible for him to travel even within the city.

The coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown meant that most of his students and well wishers could not make it to his final rites. But his contribution to their overall development would always be remembered.