Mumbai: A badminton revolution is on in India. The talk in the sporting circles here is about P.V. Sindhu bagging the gold medal in the BWF World Championships as former international star Vimal Kumar, who showed the way for many to take up the sport and later become an outstanding coach, was conferred the ‘Dronacharya Award’ on Thursday for his contribution as a coach.
An exceptional player of his generation, Kumar bagged the French Open and Welsh Open International titles in the Eighties. After taking up coaching, he rose to become the chief national coach of the Indian squad but quit the post to concentrate on grooming youngsters at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bengaluru where he is the director. Stars like Saina Nehwal and Parupalli Kashyap are among his proteges.
Speaking to Gulf News, Vimal Kumar was forthright in admitting that he did not quite approve the idea of having to apply for any award. “Like all others, I am very happy at being recognised by the sports ministry and the sports fraternity. You feel very good, but I never thought about it because in India, the process is such that you have to apply for an award.
“Some people who are not nominated by their respective federations have to apply for such an award. I feel that norm should also go. In my case, the Badminton Association of India had forwarded my credentials and so that is how I got it. I feel awards are one that one should not be asking for it and if you are eligible for it, you should be given.”
Kumar is delighted that his sport is gaining popularity in India by leaps and bounds. “With players like Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu and Srikanth (Kidambi) and many others performing well, now the sport is getting popular. Now you can see parents are investing money in their children and they are allowing their children to pursue on whatever careers they want, including sport. Things have changed in the country. I feel in the next 10 to 15 years, sport will become very big in India. Badminton now is the second most popular sport after cricket while many other disciplines are also doing well — even athletics is showing a lot of spark.”
Reacting to the obvious question of Sindhu finally ending her disappointment at the World Championship, Kumar observed: “Sindhu, by nature, is very friendly and soft. She is surely getting better with her aggression on court. I am happy to see a big improvement in her body language. Also, none could manage her pace last week ... she was just awesome.”
How to spot real talent
What are the qualities that, as a veteran coach, one sees in a player that makes him believe that he or she can go on to become a good player? “I think at the age of 15 and or 16, you can see the skills in them. Badminton is very technical and physical and so you should show the spark around that age. It is the time they may create two or three upsets, beating some of the senior players in the circuit. Then you know he or she has the scope to go up. Then it might take two or three years to mature and establish, but the spark should happen at that age. Then we know he has the potential to become a top international player.”
Looking back at his early days, Kumar — who hails from Kerala — revealed how he fought the odds and even the prevailing system to become a top player. “In Kerala when I was a young athlete, everybody’s priory was academics. The norm was such that if only you are poor in academics, then one used to take up sports. That was the mindset that the people had then. I was just an average student and my mother was a teacher so I had to take up science group for my pre-university.
“When I finished my pre-university, I took admission for medicine but that was the time when Prakash (Padukone) was also doing well at the international level. I was by then playing for the country and wanted to emulate Prakash — so I said I don’t want to pursue medicine and took up BCom. That was a big decision and a lot of people, including my mother, was very disappointed as she was a teacher. My father supported me in my decision but my relatives were surprised as nobody ignores a medical seat to pursue sport.
“I have absolutely no regrets at all for doing that because all my life, I just played badminton. After I finished my graduation, I could move to England and create my own identity.”
Asked how he started his career as a coach, Vimal Kumar said: “In 1992, when I relocated from England to India I set base in Bengaluru because Prakash was also there and we practised together. Prakash had moved from Denmark to India in 1988.
It was during this time I met Vivek Kumar who used to play for Karnataka. He was from the Kirloskar family. Vivek always had the idea to start a badminton academy. So myself and Vivek were the first one to think on those lines and we went to Prakash for advice when Prakash also suggested that he also had the same idea and would like to join us. That’s how Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy was born and this year, we will be completing 25 years.
Vivek then branched out into business and he invested 15 acres of land from his own personal wealth and built another big infrastructure in Bengaluru and dedicated it to Prakash and Rahul Dravid and it is called ‘Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence’ and we are operating out of that premises. We will soon open the facilities for Non Resident Indians too and even players from outside.
“We have 16 badminton courts and our hostel facilities will be ready by next summer and it can accommodate nearly 350 athletes. We have facilities for badminton, tennis, swimming, football and cricket. When I look at the youngsters now, I feel happy that the opportunities are a lot better. If you really want to pursue your dreams, the opportunities are there, so at the end of your career you should not have any frustrations.”