By T S Sudhir
“More than the news of the Padma Bhushan being conferred on him, Gopi is more delighted that Saina and Sindhu have entered the finals of the Syed Modi India Grand Prix Gold Badminton tournament,” said Subbaravamma, mother of National Badminton coach Pullela Gopichand.
That in a nutshell sums up Gopichand and his devotion to his craft. In fact, when P V Sindhu won the bronze medal at the World Badminton championship in August last year and comparisons with London Olympic Games bronze medallist Saina Nehwal began in right earnest, Gopichand said that his dream is to see his best two students in the final of a tournament because that will assure India of a gold and a silver. “We should look at them as Saina and Sindhu, not Saina versus Sindhu,” he had said.
In Lucknow for the India Grand Prix, Gopichand may well think Lady Luck has really smiled on him, with this double whammy. “I am happy and thrilled. It is recognition for what I have done for badminton in India, it will motivate to work more hard to make India a badminton powerhouse,” he said.
What makes this year’s Padma awards list even more special for Gopi is that well-known orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ashok Rajgopal, who perfomed three surgeries on the badminton player’s knee and a torn cartilage between 1994 and 1998 after his terrible accident during a doubles match on court, has also been awarded the Padma Shri. After ensuring Gopichand was once again fit to play, Dr Rajgopal had waived his fee and instead asked for an All-England Badminton championship trophy, saying “that will be my fee”. Gopichand ensured the doctor’s `fee’ was paid in 2001, when he won the title at Birmingham.
With the Padma Bhushan now, Gopichand becomes one of the most decorated sportspersons in India having been awarded the Rajiv Khel Ratna award, Padma Shri, Arjuna Award and Dronacharya award.