With no Olympics, Asian Games or Commonwealth Games in the year, activities on the sports front seemed to be on the low side. Expectations had soared when the World Cup cricket was on with nearly every Indian fan pitching for India to grab the coveted trophy. But that did not happen. Dreams died. True the year also did witness international events and individual acts of excellence in various sporting events. Squash for instance saw the emergence of Asian champions in both men and women, something that had never happened earlier. Shooters have been keeping the media busy with shows of brilliance almost every other day. Table tennis’ stock rose in the wake of the Ultimate Table Tennis professional league that brought talents like Sathiyan and Sharath Kamal inching ahead in world rankings. In the midst of this has come in full glow the charm of badminton, a sport which has lately been raising standards to tantalising level. And as it happened, two sterling performers, P.V. Sindhu and Manasi Joshi, with their heroic performances not only demanded worldwide attention but brought for India two world champions!
Indeed Basel City in Switzerland will not be remembered by sports lovers in this country for tennis legend Roger Federer's home alone but for what it ushered in for India, thanks to the World championship triumphs Sindhu in the regular BWF championship and Manasi in the Para BWF championship. Two success' stories achieved through pain, sacrifice, grit and hard work besides degrees of difficulty of varying levels. What linked the two great victories, however, was the common influence, that of the wisdom and tactics of P Gopichand, not to forget the services of his academy in Hyderabad! Both Sindhu and Manasi that way come from Gopi's stable. Behind the success of any sportsperson, it is rightly said is the services provided by the coach and an institution matching the best in the world. It is heartening that Gopichand Academy has in its relatively short history already scripted wonder stories that included Olympic medalists and now even better, World championship gold medalists.
Badminton has indeed come a long way since the time maestro Prakash Padukone took upon himself to give the sport a short in the arm with his deeds back in the seventies. Winning national titles repeatedly was fine but he was convinced that staying in the country then lacked the ambience to meet the requirements of a player with giant dreams, Prakash decided to find bases overseas to give substance to his single-minded devotion and sacrifice. Stemming from that came his 1980 success in the All England championship, the first Indian to achieve that and soon he was World number one. The bronze medal in the world championship in 1983 came next and again he was the first Indian to get into the medals podium. The inspiration began then and the look out was for a trail. Prakash gave his desires a shape in the form of an Academy and thus began the journey that is slowly but excitingly taking the sport forward.
Gopichand then took over. Known for his studied silence and a keen eye in his playing days, almost making him appear a little aloof to others, Gopi's dogged displays brought forth his mettle before long. A string of victories abroad culminated in his becoming the second Indian to win the All England Championship in 2001. Seven years later his Academy took origin with one aim, to produce world class achievers in the sport. And did he taste success! Much of the positives in Indian badminton today is a tribute to this hard working national coach. He has shown the way, worked out his plans judiciously and ensured no player of the present times faced the hardships he or his ilk had experienced in their times. The focus began with the strides Saina Nehwal made. Saina not only got the world number one ranking but brought India's first Olympic medal in the sport, a bronze in the 2012 Games in London. Things dipped thereafter for her though she remains a commendable force but Sindhu who was moving virtually astride gained attention, forged ahead with that bronze medal in the 2013 World championship.
Coming from a family of sportspersons, her father P.V. Ramana was a member of the 1986 Asian Games medal winning volleyball team and her mother Vijaya is a volleyballer too, Sindhu had in her the sporting strains of her parents. But how far will that take her was the big question. After adding one more World championship bronze, this Hyderabad sensation rose to the final of the 2017 edition. But crashed in an epic battle against Japanese Nozomi Okuhara. Next year again she stormed into the final only for another heart break. Disappointments were quick but retaining that hunger was the corner stone of what has now become her biggest triumph to date. It is a moment to cherish and an occasion to rejoice. Similar was Manasi's tribulations. Beating an opponent who had thrice defeated her had to be something special.
What has happened in Basel should be a turning point for Indian badminton. For it is now or never as the focus now shifts to the Tokyo Olympics less than a year away. A gold medal should not be beyond Sindhu. Add to that the excellence of Saina, the exploits of Sai Praneeth who had won a bronze in Basel, not to forget the remarkable duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, the first Indian pair to win a BWF super 500 title that took them into the top-10 world ranking and India has a bunch who can challenge the best. Rosy picture indeed. For now lets applaud Sindhu and Manasi for their super effort.