The exploits of the 2001 All England Open Badminton Champion Pullela Gopichand are known to almost every person that follows or keeps up with major sporting news and updates in India. After his own career ended, Gopichand got to work and ended up revolutionizing badminton with his own academy dedicated to carving out world-class athletes. With Saina Nehwal bringing home a bronze in 2008 and PV Sindhu clinching a silver and bronze in Rio and Tokyo respectively, all exponents of the Pullela Gopichand Academy, it's fair to say that it has been a grand success.
Moving past badminton, Pullela Gopichand has never shied away from helping the Indian sporting community whenever possible. The opportunity arose once again in 2015 when a close friend and Dutee Chand's coach N Ramesh had contacted him, and Gopichand answered the call.
Far from being the household name, she is today, those few years between 2014 and 2017 had been a nightmare for the Indian sprinter. Suspended by the IAAF for hyperandrogenism (very high levels of male hormone testosterone), Dutee fought a long and hard battle with the system which included going to the Court of Arbitration of Sports (CAS) for intervention.
In the end, Dutee won as she got cleared by the CAS and was free to compete again. But to her, it had felt anything but a victory back then. Years and years of training and preparation, getting to a level that she had desired, building a strong project and it had all come crumbling down and she needed to begin from scratch yet again. And that is where she found the support and warmth from Indian badminton guru Pullela Gopichand.
The Indian sporting system, quick to elevate someone to the top can turn just as easily, as Dutee had unfortunately found out first-hand. Despite having her name and records cleared, the damaged reputation persisted and Dutee was tired of screaming and shouting at the top of her lungs, that she was, in fact, a woman. Unwilling to stay and train at the SAI centres, she had instead found a home at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy which had opened its doors for her.
At the Gopichand academy, Dutee's needs and requirements were taken care of. From high-performance training under coach N Ramesh to having an excellent support staff to even getting to cook her own meals, there had been no shortcomings. She even trained alongside badminton star PV Sindhu who became the first Indian woman to win two individual Olympic medals yesterday. "The congenial atmosphere has given Dutee the desire to strive harder," Ramesh had said.
Rising above and beyond the call of duty, Pullela Gopichand also used his own resources to fund Dutee's exposure trip to Birmingham in England in February 2017. There, the 25-year-old had participated in an international indoor athletics meet. Both Dutee and her coach were overwhelmed by the support from Gopichand as it was hard to arrange financial assistance from the government for indoor events that aren't popular in India.
Speaking to ETPanache in 2018, Dutee said, "My coach and Gopichand are good friends. I call him Gopi bhaiya. He gave me dry fruit and allowed me to eat chicken and fish, which was needed for my nutrition. He and his family even opened their kitchen and allowed me to cook for myself, as they only made South Indian food."
Gopichand gave her faith when she had lost it all. "I was shattered," she says. "[The allegations] It made me want to scream. I had a tough time training and I owe a lot to Gopichand. He fulfilled my coach's request to let me practice at his academy before the Rio Olympics."
Dutee has now lived one of her dreams by appearing at the Tokyo Olympics in Women's 100m and 200m. The next challenge in front of her would be to qualify for the semis and target a podium in the upcoming Games and she has all the necessary tools to succeed at her disposal.