Happy Teacher's Day: Celebrating coaches who produced champions

Pullela Gopichand, Satpal Singh and other Indian coaches have played a great role in harnessing India's vast talent pool in sports.
By Olympic Channel Writer

Champions are not made overnight. It takes years of training to achieve excellence. While the perseverance and perspiration of an athlete are the ultimate determining factors, the role of a coach in shaping their path to success cannot be underestimated.

On Teacher's Day, Olympics.com attempts to acknowledge the contribution of the support staff, that in modern day sports, is simply indispensable.

There are some incredible tales of coaches and how their mentorship influenced their wards to make it big on the international stage.

Here are 10 such Indian personalities who helped unearth and polish a raw diamond. This tribute on Teacher's Day is by no means a 'final' list but only a small endeavour to say thank you to those who often remain as unsung heroes.

Pullela Gopichand

One of Indian badminton’s finest servants, Pullela Gopichand, has helped shape the careers of Olympic medallists PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal among others.

After his long illustrious career as a player, Gopichand invested all his savings and even mortgaged his house to open his badminton academy in Hyderabad. That academy has well and truly ushered in India’s revival in badminton, with most of today’s top seeds from the country having honed their trade there.

Indian badminton coach Pullela Gopichand was behind the success of PV Sindhu at the Rio Olympics.

Gopichand has been described as a strict disciplinarian; having even prohibited PV Sindhu from even using her phone before the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The veteran coach was also instrumental in charting the path to success for Srikanth Kidambi, recognising his individual talent as a player and making him switch from doubles to singles badminton.

Gopichand’s personalised training and disciplined approach is what has helped Indian badminton achieve success. He has also been given a honourable mention by the International Olympic Committee for his lifetime contribution to badminton.

GS Sandhu

Indian boxing has grown leaps and bounds in the past decade or so and the major credit for that is reserved for Gurbaksh Singh Sandhu. He was at the helm of affairs when India won their first boxing medal at the Olympics in 2008, with his pupil Vijender Singh claiming bronze.

Sandhu introduced video-assisted training to Indian boxers and had his wards look into footage of their opponents to study them.

Indian boxer Vijender Singh (right) won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

He also instilled a change in technique for Indian boxers, encouraging them to use more jabs and avoid trying too many uppercuts or hooks in order to maximise points.

The change in strategy paid off as eight of India’s boxers training under Sandhu managed to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics; and also found continued success in the Commonwealth and Asian Games.

Jaspal Rana

Shooting has been another sport in which India has grown leaps and bounds in the span of a few years.

The nation boasts of several young shooters like Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary and Anish Bhanwala who have already made it big on the international stage.

Asian Games gold medallist Jaspal Rana has helped Indian shooting prosper.

Part of that credit goes to India’s junior pistol coach Jaspal Rana who has been at the helm of affairs since 2012. He has been extremely encouraging to all the nation’s young shooters, giving chances to the likes of Bhaker and Chaudhary even before they turned 18.

Satpal Singh

In Indian states like Haryana and Punjab, the sport of wrestling has always had an audience with most villages having at least one star wrestler in their mix. These wrestlers though struggled to make it big on the national and international stage in the past due to limited infrastructural facilities.

Indian wrestler Sushil Kumar’s Olympic medal came under coach Satpal Singh.

Satpal Singh, 1982’s Asian Games gold medallist, put an end to these problems though after building a wrestling training centre at Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium. He also helped provide the right coaching guidance and dietary knowledge to India’s top wrestlers.

India’s two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar and London 2012 Olympics bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt, both learned their trade under the guidance of Satpal Singh and managed to make it big on the International stage.

Purnima Mahato

When it comes to Indian archery, a name that stands out in contemporary times is that of Deepika Kumari. She has amassed three golds and three silvers to her name in the Archery World Cups and also represented the country at the 2012, 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games.

Purnima Mahato oversaw the success of Indian archer Deepika Kumari.

Deepika Kumari, who was world No. 1 going into Tokyo 2020, has attributed part of her success to her coach Purnima Mahato, who has been by her side since she turned pro in 2006.

Purnima Mahato is regarded as the visionary behind Kumari’s success, helping her improve on technique as well as keeping calm under pressure. Mahato was presented the Dronacharya Award - India’s top honour given to athletes’ coaches for their contributions - in 2013 for her tireless work with India’s current crop of archers.

O M Nambiar

PT Usha is arguably the country’s most celebrated athlete on the track, as she blazed her way to multiple gold medals around Asia in the 1980s, even coming close to a historic bronze at Los Angeles 1984.

And the man responsible for PT Usha being on the cusp of history was coach O M Nambiar.

The Keralite had a keen eye for talent and he recognised Usha’s natural abilities early. Nambiar mentored her right through her teenage years and persuaded her to try out the 400m hurdles ahead of the 1984 Olympics as he thought PT Usha had a great chance of winning a medal. He was almost proved right.

Nambiar was honoured with the Dronacharya Award in 1985 and was one of the most well-respected Indian athletics coaches. He died in August 2021.

Bishweshwar Nandi

If Dipa Karmakar made India proud by pulling off the notoriously difficult Produnova at Rio 2016 to finish a historic fourth, the nation has her coach Bishweshwar Nandi to thank.

Nandi - an accomplished gymnast himself, having been a three-time national champion – has coached Dipa Karmakar since she was seven years old.

Indian gymnast Dipa Karmakar has perfected her vault under Bishweshwar Nandi.

Though it was his wife Soma who first spotted Dipa’s talent, Bishweshwar Nandi has been the key to the gymnast’s success as he constantly pushed Dipa to the limit, and it resulted in one of the most memorable moments at the Olympics.

The 2016 Dronacharya awardee has also co-authored the book ‘Dipa Karmakar: The Small Wonder’.

Nihar Ameen

Asian Games bronze medallists Virdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal have been the flag bearers of Indian swimming and the common link between both is coach Nihar Ameen.

Ameen, who had a stint as assistant coach in the USA, one of the most successful swimming nations, used the knowledge he gained to good effect in India.

Indian swimmer Virdhawal Khade can thank coach Nihar Ameen for his success.

He was also an instrumental figure for Shikha Tandon, the first Indian swimmer to qualify in two events at the Olympics (50m and 100m freestyle at Athens 2004) and was given the Dronacharya Award in 2015.

Now a coach at the renowned ‘Prakash Padukone Centre of Excellence’ in Bengaluru, Ameen is focused on picking the next best swimming talent from the country.

Syed Abdul Rahim

Hyderabad’s Syed Abdul Rahim, popularly called Rahim Saab, is a name intrinsically intertwined with Indian football’s history.

Not only did the legendary head coach lead India to Asian Games gold medals in 1951 and 1962, but also played a hands-on role in nurturing and cultivating India’s Golden Generation, including legends like PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Tulsidas Balaram, who made India a dominant force in Asian football.

It was also under him that the Indian football team reached the semi-finals of the 1956 Olympics – still widely regarded as India’s biggest achievement in football.

Rahim’s untimely death due to cancer in 1963 is still regarded as a major blow to Indian football – one which it is still recovering from.

Gaurav Khanna

A promising badminton player during his youth, Gaurav Khanna’s career as a sportsman didn’t quite take off. The 2020 Dronacharya Award winner, however, made sure he left a lasting mark on Indian sports, coaching para-badminton players.

Under Gaurav Khanna, India won four medals -- including two golds -- at the Tokyo Paralympics.

He has worked as the head coach of the Indian deaf badminton team and even coached the Asian deaf badminton team at a continental event against Europe.

In 2015, he took over as the head coach of the Indian para-badminton team and helped put Indian para-badminton on the map. Over the course of his career, Khanna has helped India shuttlers win over 300 medals, including World Championship golds.

Gaurav Khanna was the coach of the Indian badminton team at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Some of the notable players he has mentored include Rohit Bhaker (Deaf), Parul Parmer, and Paralympic medallists Manoj Sarkar and Pramod Bhagat – all Arjuna Awardees.

Happy Teacher's Day to each one of them!