first_imgSyed Mohammad Arif has nurtured some of the top badminton talents in the country, but Saina Nehwal was ‘special’. Now, his talented protegee has an Olympic medal to boast of.’Arif sir’, as he is fondly called in badminton circles, can vividly recall the 1998 summer camp in Hyderabad from where coach Nani Prasad Rao selected an eight-year-old from a bunch of 250-odd kids.”She was Saina and she was an average kid to start with. But as the days passed, I could make out that she was a cut above the rest,” Arif told Mail Today.”Saina was prepared to follow whatever she was told. She would never shy away from hard work and was always ready to push herself. She literally pushed her body to limits in the training. That is when I realised that she was a special talent and will go a long way.”Saina trained under Arif at the Lal Bahadur Shastri indoor stadium till the latter retired as coach from the Sports Authority of India. In 2005, Saina moved under Pullela Gopi Chand, who too has been trained by Arif.”At a young age, she used to compete in 4-5 events in age group tournaments and she would win. She was playing at the senior level when she was just 14,” he said.Arif also gives a peek into the sacrifices her family had to make. “She used to stay far off from the stadium and we would start at 5.30 in the morning. Her father or mother would bring her along and pick her up. To do that for years was not easy. The family has had to sacrifice a lot and I am happy for them today.”advertisementIt wasn’t just Arif, but the entire badminton fraternity that was waiting in anticipation for Saina to win a medal. “She has done us proud. We are extremely elated,” former Asian champion Dinesh Khanna told Mail Today.”She was the only non-Chinese player in the semis and it was not easy for her. She has played so well till the quarter-finals. She had an exceptional win against Tine Baun.”last_img

Leave a Comment