Satwik-Chirag strong favourites to win gold in Paris Olympics: Pullela Gopichand

PC – Revsportz. “Sindhu delivered in the past. She has two Olympic medals. She has age on her side. Of course she can do it,” opined Gopichand.

The dream started 24 years ago at the Sydney Olympics. Pullela Gopichand had lost his match and to find some solace, he hesitantly knocked on Karnam Malleswari’s door early in the morning. Malleswari had just become the first Indian woman to win a medal at the Olympics, a bronze in weightlifting. “I just wanted to see the medal, hold it. Even though I lost, she won it for the country, and it was a dream,” Gopichand recounted, as he kickstarted RevSportz’s Trailblazers 2.0 Conclave via a press conference at the Calcutta Sports Journalists’ Club on Monday. 

As the national team’s chief coach, the former All England champion now looks after a host of medal prospects, at a time when Indian badminton is going through a golden period. So, with just four months to go for the Paris Olympics, who are India’s medal prospects? “Satwik-Chirag (Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty) definitely are the prospects to win the gold as the World No. 1 pair. They will be one of the favourites to win the gold,” said Gopichand. 

PV Sindhu won a silver and a bronze in the last two Olympics, but the gold has remained elusive. Can she do it now? “Sindhu delivered in the past. She has two Olympic medals. She has age on her side. Of course she can do it,” opined Gopichand. 

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The Trailblazers 2.0 will be an assembly of cross-sport culture and dialogue. Forty athletes and para athletes, champions in their respective fields like Sourav Ganguly, Vishwanathan Anand, Neeraj Chopra, Leander Paes, Mary Kom, Sania Mirza, Nikhat Zareen and others, will be participating. Gopichand stressed on the importance of cross-sport dialogue. “If even one child gets inspired and takes to sport, that’s huge. That more than compensates any amount of money,” he said. 

In the early 1990s, Indian badminton had reached its nadir. India couldn’t send a badminton team at the 1994 Commonwealth Games because they weren’t among the top-six in the Commonwealth. Thirty years down the line, India have won the Thomas Cup. The women’s team has reached new heights. “Back then, there were about 40 players actively training at the top level. Now the number has risen to 10,000. And not only badminton, as a country, we have really invested in sport in the last 10 years. If you look at the entire ecosystem, there’s a lot more emphasis on sport than there has ever been. A sporting revolution in this country is waiting to happen,” he noted. 

Who after Saina Nehwal and Sindhu? “Anmol Kharb. She is 17 years old, she won gold at the Asia Team Championships. Kharb is the brightest (prospect). In the men’s circuit, we have Lakshya Sen, Priyanshu Rajawat and Prannoy HS,” he spoke about the future. 

Monday was the birthday of his daughter, Gayatri, who herself is a badminton player of repute. “She has a long journey ahead. But I’m a proud father. And thanks to her, I have become more sensitive,” Gopichand signed off.


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