Badminton coach and former Indian coach Pullela Gopichand has said that he was deeply hurt when Saina Nehwal had left his academy to join the training facility run by Prakash Padukone. He also said he wondered why Padukone encouraged Saina to leave his academy.
Current National Coach for the Indian Badminton team Gopichand has revealed the same while talking about difficult times in an upcoming book ‘Dreams of a Billion: India and the Olympic Games.’ In the chapter titled ‘Bitter Rivarly’, Gopichand narrates how miserable he had felt when Saina Nehwal had decided to leave his academy to train under Vimal Kumar at the academy run by Padukone in Bangalore.
In the book he also wondered why Prakash Padukone “never had anything positive to say about him”. The book has been co-authored by sports historian Boria Majumdar and senior journalist Nalin Mehta.
Talking about Saina’s exit, he has written, “It was as if something very dear was being taken away from me. Earlier, I had literally begged her 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.”
It is believed that Saina had left Gopichand’s academy as she felt that he was focusing more on the other star badminton player, PV Sindhu. Responding that, Gopichand says, “”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”.
He said that he felt Vimal or former Olympian Viren Rasquinha or Prakash Padukone could have talked to her to change her mind. “May be 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,” he said.
Saina’s husband and former CWG gold medallist Parupalli Kashyap also corroborated Gopichand, saying that she had faced difficult times after leaving his academy. She has lost in an early round at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and after that she had to undergo a surgery for an injury.
“It was clearly the worst phase in her life. She had lost early in the Olympics and it had wasted months and years of hard work. 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 said recalling that period. Saina Nehwal returned to Pullela Gopichand’s academy after winning the 2017 World Championship.
Kashyap said that Saina wanted to go back to her former trainer, but she needed a big win before doing that. “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,” he said.
The book chronicles India’s journey in the Olympics – the wins, the misses, the star sportspersons, their stories, and the challenges and possibilities that lie ahead of India to make its mark at the mega sporting event in 2020. The book published by HarperCollins will be released later this month.