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Gentle giant

An icon for the game, Prakash Padukone is also a man with lots of affable charm, says V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM.

PRAKASH PADUKONE. His name is synonymous with badminton for close to three decades now. This genial, champion shuttler from Bangalore is by all means a trendsetter in many aspects of the sport. Scaling the summit in the world of badminton when there were neither the facilities nor the money, Prakash, to put it simply, is to the sport what Viswanathan Anand is to chess. He is a completely affable character despite being assured of a place in the `Hall of Fame' of Indian sport by the sheer weight of his achievements, which include the Commonwealth Games gold in 1978, the 1980 All England Championship and then the triumph in the World Cup. A feat which most other Indians can only dream of.

And, when this gentleman player of yesteryear looks back, predictably he doesn't have any regrets. "Essentially, I never thought I would be a big name in badminton for I started playing the sport when I accompanied my father, Ramesh Padukone. Only when I won the junior national title at the age of 15, did I realise that I could take up the sport more seriously," recalls Prakash. "To be honest, I am happy with whatever little I achieved. Since there were no great expectations, at least initially, there was no question of any frustration," is his reply. He also reminds us that he started mastering the finer aspects of the sport in a hall which was booked for marriages six months a year with just enough good light to see the shuttle. "Now, you can visualise the sea change in the facilities for youngsters," he exclaims.

The 48-year-old, Prakash Padukone does feel that the most significant point in his career was when he won both the juniors' and the seniors' titles in the same year in 1971 at the age of 16. "That was the moment when I thought I could be something big in the sport. And in fact, that was one moment which I really cherish with my family and friends," he says going down memory lane. Is there any goal, which he is yet to achieve? "Honestly, nothing. I did what best I could do as a player, as an administrator and as a coach by setting up the BPL National Academy in Bangalore," is his reply.

How did he enjoy the feeling of being the first Indian to win the All England championship in 1980? "Honestly, if you play thinking about what money or reception you will get if you win something, you will end up nowhere. The thrill of winning that title was something unique. And, the reception back home was something totally unexpected but I definitely enjoyed every bit. Well, these are things which make you feel good for they show that people do recognise your efforts," is Prakash's answer. What exactly is his advice to youngsters? "Self-belief is the key to success. One has to play to his strengths forgetting the opponent's reputation. In fact, this is the reason why so many Indian youngsters are excelling in the world of information technology. They showed to the world that they can compete with the best by believing in themselves," says the champion shuttler.

What really appeals to him most in life? "I like people, in any walk of life, who say very little about themselves, are simple and humble," says Prakash, himself a perfect role model for all these features. When reminded that most of the sporting celebrities from Karnataka are generally very dignified and well behaved, he feels it might be because of the upbringing and the culture back home. What was the most decisive moment of his life? "I think the move to play in Denmark along with Martin Frost after winning the All England championship is the best thing to have happened to me. You would not have been successful if you were to be in India at that time. Same was the case with Viswanathan Anand, Paes and Bhupathi," he reminds.

Not surprisingly, Prakash's all-time favourite is the Swedish tennis legend - Bjorn Borg. "I have been a great admirer of his game and the way he conducted himself on and off the court," he says. In life and in sport whom does he look to when he is down and out? "Initially, it was my father Ramesh, who has been associated with the sport as an administrator at the State-level for quite a long time. Then, I started to handle things on my own. I learnt quite a lot watching my father. Now naturally, my wife and two daughters - Deepika and Anisha - are the best company for me besides two friends, Bharath and Kaushik," he explains.

Believe it or not, Prakash, like a true sportsperson, never really thought too much about the awards like the Arjuna and the Padmashri Awards. Nor did he lobby for them as most of the current sportspersons do. "They are only a bonus. If you are focussed only on excelling at the highest level, these are secondary. They only enhance the value of your performances but are not necessarily the motivating factors," he reasons out. How does the champion sportsperson spend time at home now? "I enjoy listening to any music which is good and generally prefer to go to concerts. I was never really a socialite for I stopped attending parties for quite some time now," is his frank reply. What would he have been if not a badminton player? "The problem was that I started playing the game when I was seven. So the love of the sport didn't really give me scope to think of anything else. May be, I would have been interested in law," he says. Any dreams unfulfilled? "Not really. I am a contented man," is the reply. His parting advice to the potential champions is this: "If you are looking for the perfect model to achieve something at the highest level, you need not look beyond Pullela Gopi Chand. For he is the ideal mix of all the qualities an Indian player should have to make a mark." A compliment straight from the heart of a gentleman !

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