Sunday, August 28, 2016

Champion of Champions - Pullela Gopichand

It's been a while since Rio, but it's never too late to laud Pullela Gopichand and his magnificent efforts. He stands tall amongst all the star players and star coaches across all games in India for the simple reason that he not only played and performed at the highest level but actually gave back ten, twenty times more to the game after his playing days. Most star players sink back into comfortable jobs or take up temporary jobs as coaches or mentors. If they are cricketers they become administrators, owners of teams, businessmen. Or become politicians or TV/movie  personalities.

But only in Gopichand's case have we come across a player-coach who has used his knowledge of the craft to take the game that gave him so much, ten steps further. It's easy to give up and sink back into a life of a has-been. One will get some job or another as coach or something and things will keep going. One can easily blame the system and sit back and become pot bellied.

But that's not what Gopichand chose. His focus on setting up the academy. His vision. His demanding work ethic of which so much is spoken of now. His desire to produce champions who will win glory for India. All this is a single man's vision with little or no support from those who matter. He did not give up when there were obstacles. He dug deep and found the finances, set up the academy, brought it to reality and did not stop there. He followed through and actually produced not one but a line of champions who know what it takes to be a champion now. In Rio, it was pretty much Hyderabad versus the Rest of the World.

One little kid sees Sindhu or Kidambi at the academy, sees what they have achieved and the kid will do all that the two champions do. We need role models and badly. And Gopichand has shown the way. As have the other coaches. But there is a certain something about Gopi that sets him apart.

His humility and innate dignity certainly. His manner of letting his work speak for itself. He is very balanced, calm and centered. One heard of that story when he apparently refused  to endorse a soft drink company because it was not a good product for any child to drink. Who has this kind of conviction? These are the real heroes who show it by being who they are, by demonstrating through their acts repeatedly that heroism is not thumping your chests, its in showing what you are made of when the chips are against you, when it is easy to take a call no one would have minded.

To train as hard as his wards in the run up to the Olympics, to prepare with such intense focus, to deliver under such pressure, to keep his calm all through it, I do believe Gopichand deserves a special award - one that is given to player-coaches who have not produced one but a line of champions, who have taken what they got and increased it ten levels. But there is no hurry for it. He can wait for another decade by which time Gopichand would put India on the gold medal map across tournaments surely, many times over. I have no doubt about that. He will be undoubtedly the coach of coaches, the champion of champions.

For now, one can only salute such conviction and determination, such deep understanding of the craft and of the coaching skill. And mostly for being a real role model, a real hero in a world full of fake ones.

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