While an emotional PV Sindhu let out a loud screech when she beat China’s He Bing Jiao for bronze medal in Badminton women’s singles in Saturday, a louder screech by an even more emotional Park Tae-Sang in background was hard to miss. While Sindhu raised her arms in jubilation and with a tinge of relief visible on her face, her coach Tae-Sang was ecstatic; even through the mask once could figure out how much it meant for the Korean. Sindhu created history becoming India’s most successful women Olympian and only the fourth shutter in women’s singles to medal at consecutive Olympics.
“It is an important moment for my leadership career because as a player and coach I never won an Olympic medal. So it is a first for me too. I am very happy, can’t express myself,” Park would later tell PTI after the bronze medal match. In 2004 Athens games, Park was knocked out of the quarter-finals in men’s singles and his reaction when Sindhu beat Akane Yamaguchi in the quarters to reach the final was – if not better – equally eye-catching. Park had slumped to his feat seeing his ward clear the hurdle that he, in his playing days, could never do.
“It is an important moment for my leadership career because as a player and coach I never won an Olympic medal. So it is a first for me too. I am very happy, can’t express myself,” the coach said. The 42-year-old South Korean had claimed the Asian Games gold medal in 2002 during his international career as a player before turning to coaching in 2013. He served as a national coach of the Korean badminton team for five years from 2013 to 2018 before being roped in for India’s men’s singles players but after the abrupt departure of women’s coach Kim Ji Hyun, he took over the charge of training Sindhu in late 2019.
All through Sindhu’s success right from the time she came in to the limelight, one constant figure by her side has been that of Pulella Gopichand, under who she trained and for most part of her career has moulded her career. But since 2017, Sindhu started training under different coaches, partly because of his time devoted to his academy and other national players, Sindhu needed a full time coach focussed solely on her. Enter Mulyo Handoyo of Indonesia. Handoyo had worked with the legendary Taufik Hidayat. Under Handoyo, Sindhu started see progress as a singles player with different training methods. Naturally an attacking player, Sindhu lacked a bit of consistency and fitness, which was work upon under Handoyo. Then came Korean Kim Ji Hyun, tasked to concentrate on singles players –mainly Saina Nehwal and Sindhu. Nehwal though did not train under Hyun and Sindhu reaped the rewards. That very year Sindhu won the World Championship, but Hyun had to leave with months of taking after after her husband fell in.
Park was already working with the Indian group at that time and after Hyun’s exit moved his focus to Sindhu. But with covid-19 disrupting the training and postponing the Tokyo Olympics, Park and Sindhu got down to work, first shifting base to Gachibowli Indoor Stadium from the Gopichand academy, to get the feel of playing in the empty stadiums at the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza. More importantly, Park and Sindhu got down to business and started working her weakness – the defence.
“For Sindhu defence has been a weakness, there is no problem with her attack. Every player, every coach knows that and today her defence was 200%. It was superb. In fact, the entire tournament, barring yesterday, she has been very good in defence,” Park told PTI. “We have been working every day on her net play and defence and I am happy it worked.” And that defensive play was on full display against He Bing Jiao in the quarters. And it has not just been the technical aspect of Sindhu’s game that Park has been able to elevate. Going by what we saw at Tokyo, there is a special bond between the two and if Badminton a coaches’ role is very crucial on only preparations phase, but throughout.
“It is the first time that India badminton player has won two Olympic medals in badminton, so it is a great achievement not only for Sindhu but also a big moment for my teaching life,” Park added. Sindhu too acknowledged the coach’ sacrifice in her success. “My coach is happy. He put in a lot of effort and I would like to thank him. He left everything to be with me during the pandemic. He would have been missing his family. He always believed in me and we’ve finally done it. [At the end of the match] I just had tears and then went to my coach and hugged him,” she said after the bronze medal match.