By Sanjay Sharma and Shachi S Sharma
With all the travelling and constant pressure of work at the academy, it is not surprising that Gopi cannot give enough time to his family. Wife Lakshmi, a former top-notch player herself, is understanding, yet feels he should give more time to their two kids. She has known him from 1987 and throws light on their relationship.
Gopi used to be a very shy person. I think I spoke to him first and we were good friends. I won the Senior Nationals before him in 1994 and 1995. He always worked the hardest in the camps and this is what he always tells his students. To win you have to be fitter than your opponent, is the one thing he is always telling them. He was always very disciplined, with very correct eating habits. He hardly ever sees movies or goes out. When he proposed to me in 2000 in Lucknow, it was without ever taking me out. That is just the way he is. Sometimes I think he is wedded more to badminton than me. I admired his game a lot, and that is what made me accept him. I missed the two All Englands where he did really well. 1995, when he defeated Budikusuma, I could not go and in 2001, when he won, I could not go either, as my father was in hospital. As far as his coaching is concerned, I do not give any advice, but yes, sometimes I point out what I feel about junior players and he listens attentively and tries to incorporate my views in his training. But basically, he is one person who goes by his own thought-processes.
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Lakshmi is all praise for Gopi as a coach:
Very simple, if you ask me. He hardly spends any time with the family. He leaves home at about 4.30 a.m. and comes back exhausted, at about 8.30 to 9.00 p.m. He personally attends to academy students who range from six years to fifteen years, then he has junior national players and finally the senior campers. He is successful because of his dedication and his focus. He loves this job and wants all his students to be better than what he was as a player. I think that is his strength as a coach.
And how does Lakshmi rate him as a father, son and a family man?
Gopi’s main aim in life is to see Indian badminton on top of the world. In case I complain about the lack of time given to us, he says, ‘You are there to take care of the kids’. He will then praise me sky-high, knowing fully well that for a month I will not complain again. So this goes on, and sometimes I feel sorry at seeing him work so hard. We see him only for an hour or so at night, and that also not daily. To meet him, we have to go to the academy. The only concession he gives nowadays is that at least once every two months, he takes me out for a movie, which also I must first see the reviews and ensure it is a good one and also buy the tickets in advance. For five years after our marriage, we did not see any movies. This has started only lately. Mind you, we always rush to the theatre and miss some ten minutes of the movie as he is late picking me up from the academy. The kids love him and once he is at home, his whole focus is on the kids. He is a very good father and I have never seen him scolding them. His parents also meet him more at the academy than at home. But I think we all realise that his time is not his and we have to give him that freedom. So it is quality time that he spends with us, whenever he can and we are happy to support him in what he is trying to achieve.
Excerpted with the permission of Rupa Publications India from the book “Pullela Gopi Chand: The World Beneath His Feat” by Sanjay Sharma and Shachi S Sharma.