If there is one person and one academy which helped India produce world-class shuttlers and emerge as a badminton hotbed, it’s Pullela Gopichand and his badminton academy here.
Sixteen years after his heart-breaking defeat at the Sydney Olympics, Gopichand came close to realising his Olympic dream — albeit in a different role.
The amazing run of P.V. Sindhu at the Rio Olympics has brought the focus on her celebrated coach and his academy here.
Sindhu, who created history by bagging silver in the women’s singles event, is one of the products of Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy.
Sindhu is the second woman shuttler after Saina Nehwal to take the badminton world by storm and bring laurels to the academy set up by former All England Open Champion.
Analysts say the credit of turning India into a formidable force in the world of badminton goes to the 42-year-old, who has groomed world-class talents.
Srikanth Kidambi, Parupalli Kashyap, Prannoy Kumar, Arundhati Pantawane, Gurusai Datt and Arun Vishnu are other products of his academy who have made it big in the game.
Gopichand always had dreams of producing Olympic medallists. His efforts started yielding results with Saina bagging bronze in the 2012 London Olympics.
She became the first Indian woman shuttler to achieve the feat. Four years later, Gopichand’s dream again came true with Sindhu reaching the final and losing there only to World No.1 Carolina Marin.
Gopi spotted talent in Sindhu when she started training at the academy at the age of 10.
The academy set up in 2008, with an eight-court badminton hall, is rated one of the best in Asia.
Gopi has proved what a turnaround a good institution can provide. He not only mobilised funds and created world-class infrastructure but identified and groomed those talents.
Players narrate how he involves himself in training them and improving their technique.
“Sometime I feel bad that inspite being down with cold and fever, he comes to the academy to train Sindhu and other players,” said Sindhu’s father P.V. Ramana, a former volleyball player.
In 2001, Gopi won the All England Open Championship to become only the second Indian after Prakash Padukone to lift the title. He admitted that the win came a bit late in his career.
Injuries forced Gopi to go for an early retirement but he decided to don the role of a coach and create a world class infrastructure to fill the vacuum.
The then government of united Andhra Pradesh alloted five acres of land to Gopichand in Gachibowli to set up an international badminton academy. Surrounded by campuses of several IT majors, it started functioning in 2008.
In March this year, Gopichand opened the second academy in the same area. Known as Sports Authority of India (SAI)-Gopichand Academy, it has nine courts and can accommodate 60 trainees.
The twin academies together have 17 courts and can train 130 players. However, this is not sufficient to meet the huge demand, which picked up during the last five years.
Looking for talent across the country, Gopi set up academies in Gwalior, Vadodara, Tanuka (Andhra Pradesh) and Salem (Tamil Nadu). He also plans to open more including one in Greater Noida.