When PV Sindhu was eight years old in 2003, her parents, both professional volleyball players, were deeply disappointed when she told them she wanted to play badminton.
Sindhu’s father Ramana played on the national volleyball team – he’d even received an Arjuna Award. He and his wife Vijaya desperately hoped Sindhu would follow in their footsteps, but while the eight-year-old promised to be the best sportsperson she could be, she would only play badminton, she said, according to Firstpost.com.
Today, of course, Sindhu is the first Indian woman to possess an Olympic silver medal thanks to her fire on court, and no one doubts that she can go higher in the sport than any Indian woman before her. But then, it took Vijaya a great deal of persuasion before Ramana agreed to let the child play.
Once her parents accepted that badminton would be Sindhu’s game, the two athletes did all they could to help her achieve her promise to be the best sportsperson she could be.
Sindhu first trained with coach Mehboob Ali, learning the basics of the game on the badminton courts of the railways in Secunderabad. Only two years later, according to Huffington Post India, she showed such potential and dedication that national coach Pullela Gopichand persuaded her parents to shift her to his academy in Gachibowli, something that thrilled Sindhu to her soul.
It was Gopichand who had inspired Sindhu to take up badminton, according to Firstpost.com. She had been watching a recap of his 2001 win at the All-England Open Badminton Championships when she suddenly told her parents she wanted to be a shuttler. So when Gopichand spotted her potential, the little girl gave her training all she had.
Every day, six days a week, her father would wake up even before the crack of dawn, and drive Sindhu to Gachibowli, 40 km away. When the commute plus training plus school seemed too much for Sindhu to bear, they put her in the academy hostel, says Huffington Post India.
But the baby of the family couldn’t bear to be away from her parents and it showed on court. Soon, Sindhu’s family shifted to Gachibowli. And every day, when she’s not somewhere else, winning titles, Sindhu does the same thing: wake up while it’s still dark so she can start training between 4.30 and 6 am, driven to the academy by her father on a scooter. Back home for breakfast. Back to training. Back home for lunch. Back to training. Home.
It will be the same even after she returns from Rio with her silver medal.
Compared with the way Indian athletes usually emerge, Sindhu had it easy: her parents were athletes too, and understood that sport can be a career. They were highly supportive, doing their best to give the girl everything she needed to do well. And she had the best coach anyone could possibly have, who trained her not just in a game, but mentally and emotionally as well, says Huffington Post India.
By now, the media is rife with anecdotes about Sindhu’s training: How Gopichand taught her to scream on court, how Gopichand showed her how to channel her aggression.
But the best way to understand Sindhu is to see her play.
2009: Bronze medal at the Sub-Junior Asian Badminton Championships, Colombo
2010: Silver medal at the Iran Fajr International Badminton Challenge
2012: Won Asia Youth Under 19 Championship
2013: Won Malaysian Open; became India’s first medallist in women’s singles in the World Championships, won Macau Open Grand Prix Gold
2014: Reached semi-finals of Commonwealth Games in Glasgow; won two medals back-to-back in the World Badminton Championships (first Indian to achieve this feat)
2015: Runner-up at Denmark Open, won women’s singles title at Macau Open
2016: Won Malaysia Masters Grand Prix; won silver medal at Rio Olympics (youngest Indian to win an Olympic medal)