P.V. Sindhu’s failure to win gold at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro did not discourage the crowd at the Pullela Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad’s posh Gachibowli area, who celebrated her spirited fight against World’s no. 1 badminton champion Caroline Marin for hours after the game ended. They danced to drumbeats till late in the night on Sindhu’s winning the silver.
Thousands of sports lovers and Sindhu fans gathered from 4 pm at the academy to watch the women’s singles badminton match, slated to begin at 6:55 pm, on a giant screen arranged there. People came from faraway places to share space with Sindhu’s parents, P.V. Ramana and Vijaya, both volleyball players. Academy founder and coach Gopichand’s wife P.V.V. Lakshmi, too, joined the gathering.
The entire city came to a halt since evening as people stayed glued to scores of giant TV screens set up in clubs and pubs. Food and cab apps offered discounts up to 30% between 5 and 9 pm. The day had begun with dozens of temples in the city witnessing special prayers and “homam” for Sindhu. Sindhu’s father Ramana also performed a puja in a west Godavari temple earlier in the day, while some devotees at River Krishna “Pushkaralu” offered special prayers for her to secure the gold medal.
Though people wanted nothing short of a gold medal, her defeat to Marin didn’t dampen their spirits. “Sindhu, Mana Bangaram (Sindhu is our Gold)” screamed Namaste Telangana, a Telugu daily, while leading Eenadu ran a headline, saying: “You won our hearts”.
Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao announced a cash reward of Rs 5 crore to Sindhu besides a 1,000 sq yards house site in the city and a Group 1 government job to her. He also announced a reward of Rs 1 crore to Gopichand’s academy. KCR will also give Sakshi Malik, who won bronze, Rs 1 crore. The Andhra Pradesh government has announced Rs 3 crore for Sindhu besides a 1,000 sq yards residential plot at Amaravati and a Group 1 government job. It has announced a reward of Rs 50 lakh for Gopichand. AP will give Rs 50 lakh to Sakshi. The Madhya Pradesh government has also announced a reward of Rs 50 lakh for Sindhu.
Sindhu had toiled hard in the last one year and followed a punishing training schedule under the coaching of Gopi. Sindhu was not allowed to use her mobile phone since May and kept off from social media. Gopichand, himself an All England badminton champion, funded this academy in 2000 and was granted a six-acre government land the next year. Having begun with a modest 25 students, the academy now imparts coaching to around 120 boys and girls from all over the country.
“Sindhu was not allowed to have any soft drinks or carbohydrates, leave alone her favourite Hyderabadi biryani. If she was found to have violated the food discipline, she would be punished with 10 rounds around the campus,” said a staffer at the academy.
Coach Gopi too followed a strict discipline himself.
Sindhu took to badminton since she was seven years old and started early training at the government LB Stadium grounds. She joined Gopichand’s academy in 2008.
She had to get up at 3 am to reach the academy as her house is in Secunderabad, 28-km from the Gopichand academy.
Her father Ramana, a railway employee under the sports quota, used to drop Sindhu by his car at the academy by 4 am. “Being sportspersons, we know the importance of training and timings,” he told the media while watching the final.
Ahead of Sindhu’s Olympics appearance, her family shifted to a rented apartment near the academy in early 2015 and Ramana went on a leave for eight months last year. Years ago, Sindhu used to practise with Saina Nehwal from 6.30 am to 7 am. Saina, a product of the academy, won bronze in the 2012 London Olympics. But Sindhu surpassed her role model Saina by winning a silver in the same sport.