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BAI hard-pressed to find foreign coaches as Tokyo 2020 looms large

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The last we saw of Korean coach Kim ji Hyun was her wrapping her arms around PV Sindhu, after the latter's world title in September this year. The 45-year-old from Busan, who took up the Indian coaching job only in April this year, had to cut short her stay and rush back to New Zealand last month to tend to her ailing husband.

Now, eight months before the Olympics, the onus has again circled back to national coach Pullela Gopichand.

"It's not going to be easy to find a replacement for Kim," Gopichand told ESPN. "In an Olympic year most of the coaches are taken up." Kim, a former Asian Games gold medallist, was credited with the rise of Korean star Sung ji Hyun.

Now, Sindhu has sessions with Park Tae Sang, Kim's fellow South Korean coach who joined alongside her earlier this year to coach the men's singles players, added to her schedule. She has a morning session with Gopichand, and two sessions with Park - one in the afternoon, where she joins the group, and the other in the evening.

"I train both individually and in a group with Park," says Sindhu. "So he looks at what strokes I need to work on and where I need to improve. Unfortunately, Kim had to leave midway through because of her husband's health. I'd like to think that the change won't affect my routine gravely because coaches can always come and go. Right now, I have sessions with both Gopi sir and Park, and I hope it will be fine and I can get good results in both Denmark [Open] and Paris [French Open]."

Over the past two years, two other foreign coaches - Mulyo Handoyo and Kim Tan Her - have prematurely ended their contracts with BAI. Handoyo, who fashioned sparkling performances out of the Indian men's singles players in 2017, particularly Kidambi Srikanth's four Superseries titles and his career high world No.2 ranking, is now the Singapore badminton association's chief coach.

Malaysian Tan Her, who was overseeing doubles preparations, also stepped down 18 months before his tenure ran out at the Tokyo Olympics. He is now Japan men's doubles coach. Athens Olympics bronze medallist Flandy Limpele was brought in to fill Tan Her's shoes earlier this year and the players are getting used to the switch.

"Their (Tan Her & Limpele) training methods are vastly different," says Chirag Shetty, who together with Satwiksairaj Reddy forms India's most successful men's doubles pair. "Tan's sessions were largely on court while Flandy is more focused on the off-court bits like running and agility drills. The first two months after Flandy took over were incredibly tough. But now we're settling in slowly."

BAI has also had to deal with spurns beyond early resignations. After Handoyo quit in late 2017, the Indian badminton federation had approached China's former world No.3 Chen Gang with a coaching offer, but he ended up choosing a job with the French national team in July 2018, instead.

"There's no short-term solution," says a senior BAI functionary. "We need to trust and build Indian coaches. This will always be a problem because any foreign coach who comes in wouldn't want to leave his hometown and come and live in Hyderabad or India. They will leave if and when a better contract comes their way. There's nothing that can stop them. The only way out is have 70-80 per cent of Indian coaches. The coaching base should be indigenous. We can use foreign coaches but can't be so heavily dependent on them."