A POWERFUL, well-balanced Indian badminton mixed team lifted the Commonwealth Games 2018 Gold medal at Gold Coast late last week. One of the highlights of the team's performances was the dominating win by Kidambi Srikanth versus three-time Olympic Silver medallist Lee Chong Wei: 21-17, 21-14. The fact that Srikanth played like a champion is not incidental, he did after all rise to the World No. 1 ranking for the first time in his career Thursday, becoming the first Indian male after the legendary Prakash Padukone to assume the mantle.
A young Srikanth, funnily enough, gathered his first inspiration to take up the sport after Gopichand Pullela lifted the All England Open Badminton Championships in 2001, and came through the former's hometown Guntur with the winner's trophy. A meeting transpired between the future coach and protege, and the two Kidambi brothers eventually joined the Gopichand Academy.
In 2012, GoSports Foundation interviewed Srikanth; the 18-year old was then World No. 338 and regarded as somewhat of a doubles specialist. Over the past 6 years, the foundation's support has also evolved with Srikanth's needs: it has involved funding his international tournaments to make sure he gained competition exposure, camera equipment to analyse his match play, arranging for mentorship by Rahul Dravid to ensure that he also got the perspective of a legend from outside of his own sport, and assisting with his injury rehabilitation, physiotherapy and arranging for a trainer to ensure that he stays fit to be able to cope with the rigours of the packed BWF calendar.
The newly crowned Padma Shri might be on top of the world, but he is nowhere close to done. Speaking from the Gold Coast, he says, "I'm definitely delighted to have achieved the World No. 1 ranking for the first time, and to become the first Indian man after Prakash sir to achieve this. It's a testament to the hard work of Gopi sir, my family, my other coaches and support staff, my team GoSports Foundation, my sponsors, and everyone else who has believed in me over the years. It's been a great year, but I have many more goals, and right now, my focus is on coming good at the big events and achieving many more milestones. The Commonwealth Games is on, and this year also holds the Asian Games. My target is also to do my country proud at the Tokyo Olympics in two years' time. I thank everyone for believing in me, and hope to inspire many other Indians to keep striving in their pursuit of excellence."
While this affable, talented athlete becomes a giant in his sport, one can only hope that he continues to inspire many more like himself to pick up any sport and complete the cycle of inspiration!