Reigning women's world champion Pusarla Venkata Sindhu is not just an accomplished shuttler; she is also looked upon with affection in badminton circles as a genuinely nice and warm person. There have been instances galore of the 24-year-old Hyderabadi's spontaneous caring and unquenchable sporting spirit on court at the end of even matches that have ended in heart-breaking losses.
Who can forget the manner in which Sindhu crossed the court after the final point in the 2016 Rio Olympics final was played, picked up the racket that had been flung aside by the winner, Carolina Marin, placed it near the player's kit-box, and helped the tearful Spaniard to her feet, warmly congratulating her on the gold medal win.
It was the same warm greeting for Japan's Nozomi Okuhara, who won the 2017 World Championship title at the expense of Sindhu by a 21-19, 20-22, 22-20 scoreline in a 110-minute summit clash that has gone down in the annals of the game as one of the finest finals of all time.
Again, in her victory speech at the medals ceremony of the 2019 World Championship at Basel, Sindhu dedicated her rampaging title win over Okuhara to her mother, whose birthday had fallen on the same day; and warmly acknowledged the contribution of both her parents in her success story at the World Championships, where she had bagged two bronze and two silver medals earlier.
It is therefore with much consternation, bordering on disbelief, that badminton-lovers have been reading about the allegations of "heartlessness" made by her former coach, Kim Ji Hyun, who abruptly left India shortly after Sindhu's World Championship triumph in August, on the pretext of caring for her ailing husband in New Zealand. Within weeks, Kim had joined the nondescript AP Badminton Club in Chinese Taipei as their coach; and confirmed that she would not be returning to India.
Kim's departure from the country, after a six-month long coaching stint, coincided with a sharp dip in Sindhu's fortunes and performance, leading to nationwide clamour for her charismatic South Korean coach to be brought back. The lanky Indian ace was beaten in two first-round matches, two second-round matches and one quarter-final — which was the sum total of her on-court showing in the five tournaments she played after her World Championships victory.
In the year-ending World Tour grand finals in Guangzhou, where she was the defending champion, Sindhu lost her first two group encounters to Japan's Akane Yamaguchi and China's eventual champion Chen Yufei, to be eliminated from contention for the semi-finals. She did, however, salvage a consolation group win over the left-handed Chinese, He Bingjiao, whom she has had considerable difficulty with, in the past.
To understand the full import of Kim's allegations against Sindhu, it is essential to reproduce hereunder the full, unedited text of the video interview, which was uploaded on YouTube by a channel named "장기린의 배드민턴":
Jang (host): Before you came to Taiwan, you had been in India for 6 months, and during those 6 months, you made this amazing career. There is Sindhu, the Indian badminton player. She won World Championship this year. You are a coach who helped India win a gold medal at world championships for the first time in history. You're as famous in India as Park Hang Seo is in Vietnam (South Korean soccer coach who has lead the Vietnam soccer team greatly).
Kim: I did a lot of personal training with Sindhu. She's powerful and runs well, but she didn't have many skills. I analysed her previous plays and told her, "Do this, when a ball is coming this way" before she started her game. That actually worked, and she did great at her game. Sindhu had started to win several games, so she began to believe in me. Before we went to the World Championships, I got terribly sick. I went to the hospital and got IV (Intravenous) five times, but nobody came to see me. Sindhu only asked me, "When are you coming (back) to coach me?" So I thought she is heartless, and only needs me when she is training. After winning the World Championship, we were supposed to come back to India together because we went to the Championships together, but she told me to go back alone. So I asked her, "Why should I go back alone? What about you?" She said she had to receive some prizes. I said, "Do you abandon me after winning?" (sarcastically) and then she said, "Oh, Coach, Okay Okay." If I hadn't said that, I would not have seen her awards ceremony and couldn't have done anything.
Jang: The people in India loved you, but among the coaches, there was a lot of jealousy and envy. I don't know much about Sindhu, but according to what you said, she thought she won because she did great by herself. But in fact, players can use their highest abilities because of coaches. Without a coach, players cannot raise their abilities to a higher level.
Kim: I went to India to learn something, but there was nothing to gain. We must do exercise/training with a positive mind and help each other with teamwork, but they were only jealous and envious. Also, what they only cared about was how to catch up with other coaches and how to copy other coaches' training methods. When you train your player, everyone just copies it. I should have been happy at the gym (training centre) but…
A bitterly hurt Sindhu, typically, refused to respond to Kim's allegations, or to present her own side of the story; and it was left to her father, PV Ramana, a former national volleyball player, to put the entire unsavoury episode in true perspective.
Ramana, who used to ferry Sindhu over a 30-km distance for training at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy (PGBA), and has always been at his daughter's side throughout her career, asserted, "Before accusing Sindhu of being heartless, I would like to know one vital thing — did Kim inform Sindhu that she had become terribly sick, and needed hospitalisation and intravenous injections?"
Ramana categorically stated that Sindhu had no idea that Kim had become so ill that she required IV injections. It was when the coach did not turn up for scheduled practice that the player rang her up and asked her why she had skipped the training sessions.
"You see now how that statement 'When are you coming (back) to coach me?' is twisted completely out of context?" Ramana said. "Obviously, Sindhu, who is a hardworking girl, wanted to know when the two could resume their training and practice regime. Had she known that Kim was so ill, do you think she would not have rushed to her aid at the hospital — although, in my opinion, that is not Sindhu's job."
In any case, Sindhu's father was of the opinion that Kim, as a paid employee of Indian badminton, was duty-bound to immediately inform chief national coach Pullela Gopichand of her indisposition.
"Kim says nobody came to see her; but you must ask Gopi whether she kept him informed of her sickness," said Ramana. "From information that has reached me, I can tell you that Kim slept at the house of Krishnapriya, one of the players, instead of at her own apartment, which is much closer to the PGBA."
Gopichand, on his part, refused to either confirm or deny whether he had been informed of Kim's disposition by the coach herself; or indeed, to be drawn into a discussion on a subject that has caused him considerable displeasure. It would appear that the coach felt starved of the recognition she felt she richly deserved.
Ramana, however, maintained that Sindhu never undervalued Kim's role in her development, and always acknowledged the Korean's sterling contribution in her own consistently top-class performance at the Basel World Championships. "Not only that, but she insisted on her coach going to Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi," he said. "Tell me, how many coaches get to meet the country's Prime Minister?"
Whispers within the PGBA would have it that Kim was unhappy at not being given absolute authority to take both the Indian women's singles forerunners under her wing. The Korean was keen that Sindhu and Saina Nehwal should train and play together, but it is a well-known fact that the two queens of Indian badminton are bitter rivals, have never seen eye-to-eye, and train and practice together only before an international team tournament.
Apparently, Kim wanted to resign her post before the Thailand Open that was played in the first week of August 2019, and was the precursor to the Basel World Championships. However, she was persuaded by Indonesian doubles coach, Flandy Limpele, to stick on until the end of the World Championships, and then examine her options afresh.
Evidently feeling that she could hardly hope to better her coaching performance in India in the six months leading into Basel, the Korean appears to have decided that retreat was the better part of valour — which would have been acceptable, had the said retreat been handled gracefully, and without a belated, unsavoury bid to tarnish the image of the country's first-ever official badminton world champion.
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Updated Date: Dec 23, 2019 15:40:35 IST