Badminton’s History Makers: The Push To Podium

A glorious cross-court smash by Kidambi Srikanth sealed the moment of joy for the blue billion. This was perhaps the most important point of Srikanth’s entire career, the win came 23-21.

Celebrations broke out in the Impact Arena. The entire team danced with joy and the Indian fans in the tricolor bathed in the ring.

Since the semifinals, HS Prannoy had invited the Indian fans to come and fill the arena. You listened.

Siyadath, the Indian badminton coach who was part of this history-making campaign, says: “They came and they came with drums to anticipate the moment.”

India won the Thomas Cup for the first time ever, beating Indonesia 3-0 in the final.

HS Prannoy, one of the architects of the win, said: “It gave me goosebumps to witness something like that, to be on the podium at the Thomas Cup. I’m sure half of us on the team never thought that would happen. But it happened. I think when we came here we said we could win a medal but we never thought about winning a gold medal. I still can not believe it.”

Prannoy had started a WhatsApp group It’s Coming Home around the time of the Korea Open to bring the 10 boys together and discuss their problems. “And it came home. But we had our problems, we had ups and downs. The group discussions helped us stay together, get along well,” Prannoy said, then giggled, “I told them that’s why I should all make WhatsApp groups.”

Aggression and calm, ups and downs

The Whatsapp group was a way to channel the energy, the excitement. But the boys in the cauldron stayed calm.

Chirag Shetty performed a Sourav Ganguly act after winning the doubles in the final. He ripped off his shirt and threw himself into the crowd. The 24-year-old says it was the “moment” and he “went with the flow, did what came naturally”.

While the world saw aggression, coach Pullela Gopichand saw calm.

“Amazing to see the energy they brought to the team. What you see is the aggression and visibility, what I really like is the inner calm team dances and you stick to your job; it is a story of inner peace. I think that’s important. Staying there and saying I’m going to finish the game, that kind of focus is important.

“Even the way Lakshya (Sen) kept fighting at 11-7 is commendable. He was there thinking how I can turn it around. Satwik and Chirag stayed on to fight for every point, eventually the magic happened so I think it’s you When I see the aggression I’m glad they kept calm and made it through – Prannoy, Lakshya, Srikath, Satwik-Chirag… even the guys who didn’t win, they did very well and I’m super happy about that.”

Deepthi Bopaiah, GoSports CEO, chimes in: “Gopi Sir says he saw the calm and we saw the aggression. I’ve seen a new fearless India, a bunch of role models just giving their all and giving their all. That’s what makes it a joyful, historic moment for all of us. We had Neeraj’s gold and after that we experience it. Every single person – whether they follow badminton or not, talks about it or tweets about it. It’s compared to the 1983 (cricket) World Cup. I think it’s a fearless new face of India. These guys are great role models and we can all learn a lot from them.”

The high didn’t come without hitting those lows.

Prannoy rewinds to a low point they experienced during the campaign.

“I remember we had a bad game against Chinese Taipei and Chirag-Satwik was very disappointed. Chirag came in and said we need to meet now, started talking very emotionally and said that this is not the way how we want to play. That was just a throw I got a lot of insights about each one that day. The energy shifted from there, you could see everyone starting to play. That’s when I started to feel that this team can create miracles. That made me realize as an individual that this team can win. Everyone started to believe this was going to happen. This is a journey that has taken a decade – to have that much depth in the team. Gopi Sir has produced individual champions, in the end everything came together here as a team event and we climbed to the “Thomas Cup”

Fast results in men’s badminton?

It took a decade of planning to get here. But Gopichand believes the team has developed quickly

“It happened so quickly. In 1994 India didn’t send a team to CWG because we couldn’t make the top 6. Australia, Malaysia, Canada, England were stronger teams. From then on, winning the Thomas Cup is huge. I got a lot of support, most importantly, the players believed in themselves and supported each other, and magic happened in Thailand.

“It all started in 2008 with Saina. The 2010 Commonwealth Games gave badminton a boost. Your medal in Beijing was important. In 2016, Sindhu won silver at the Rio Games, then the World Boys’ Championship medals – Lakshya, Srikanth and the emergence of doubles… There was a combination of things. Prannoy and Srikanth have had ups and downs. They play for their personal pride, the pride of their country; together as a team they compete with each other, complement each other and I think it’s a great thing. They made the team revolve around each other, that’s phenomenal. Prannoy went through a phase and said I won’t give up. The team said we won’t let you give up either. That support makes a big difference. Then the doubles players came and said we count as well,” said Gopichand.

It takes a whole village to raise a champion

And the transition has happened with the help of various stakeholders like the government, private funders like Go Sports who have worked tirelessly with Gopichand and several others in the badminton system.

Deepthi talks about working with these champions.

“I remember talking to Gopi 10 years ago when they were little boys. We talked about what stage, who should climax, who can climax, how they will come to the fore. A lot of work happened at this end. As a basis, our job was to ensure that the athlete was well supported to reach the next level. From a technical point of view, Gopichand Academy provided them all. On our side, it was to ensure that the athletes could keep their high performance, nutrition and physio set up,” she said.

“It’s been a long journey – incredible to see them go from super talented youngsters to mature men who have taken on a huge task of winning medals for the country. It’s a complete mindset. Some of them had bad lows, Covid no help but the camaraderie of the team was on display. They played like Team India,” she added.

’83 moment of Indian badminton?

Gopichand doesn’t agree with the comparisons to the 1983 moment.

“The last few years have been great for the sport – badminton has seen a steady rise over the last 10 years. We look at another sport. This win takes him to another level – inspiring a whole generation of athletes – to believe in themselves, not just in badminton, but to achieve anything in life. That’s how I see this group of champions. You’ve inspired people in sport and beyond.”

What’s next for the champions?

Supercoach Gopichand is known to be a tough disciplinarian and it’s pretty unusual to hear that from him,

“I want to tell them guys just relax, it’s fine. Finally, get back to the process and do the simple things right. It could happen this year, next year. If you do things right, magic will happen showed the best results. I have friends in Malaysia, Indonesia. The call I got was from Malaysia – they said, ‘Wow, what’s happening, that’s amazing.’ For us, these kids went there with no great expectations of others. They had expectations of themselves and few of us. The core team believed there was a way. I think this should inspire the sporting ecosystem and send the message, the best can happen in a few years.”

Indians would say “Yeh dil maange more” and coaches like Gopi are aware of that. They don’t take their foot off the pedal, and neither do the financiers. Deepthi talks about how everyone can contribute and be a part of the moments of glory in the future

Promoted

“There is an opportunity for companies to step up and support India and we need to create that bank. While these guys will continue to perform well for 3/4/5 years and a little beyond, the bench strength for LA (2028 Olympics) needs to be created now. There is a great opportunity and responsibility that comes with this win to ensure this continues and it is the responsibility of everyone here.”

The ecosystem is poised to provide more spine-tingling moments this year and beyond.

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