The doubles player also spoke regarding her Chinese and Indian counterparts Lin Dan, Prakash Padukone and Anup Sridhar briefly.
Following the retirement of Badminton legend Lin Dan, Jwala Gutta, an Indian doubles badminton player, spoke about him in a recent interview with TOI.
Introducing Lin Dan in her eyes, Jwala Gutta said she feels Dan to be that person in every group photo who always stands out. “I have known Lin Dan since the 2000 world junior championships in Guangzhou. I remember being struck then by the Chinese team. They were like robots,” she said.
“That exists to this day, there is a sameness to everybody, all similar in their kind of play, the training, the kind of footwork, the length, their attitude off the court, everything. But Lin Dan was different from the beginning.”
“He was aggressive, stylish, you know, that, ‘I know I’m the best’ vibe. His attitude was much like the Europeans who are fearless even when they are not winning. Asian players are not that aggressive because they come from a sporting country where the government is central to their development. I think only Anup Sridhar among Indians had a similar attitude of fearlessness when he was in his prime. But Lin Dan was simply another level altogether,” Jwala Gutta added.
Answering to a further question, she gave the credit for Lin Dan’s survival to coach Li Yongbo. “Had it been a woman I don’t think it would have been accepted by the Chinese as well. The coach could sense that change was inevitable. He did, what I would call westernization of an old culture.”
However, even after all of the praises, Jwala Gutta also opined that she does not feel Lin Dan would have thrived in an Indian scenario.
“How is that even possible? Indians also don’t accept that, no? That’s why I was never accepted (Laughs). People called him the bad boy of badminton and I was the ‘bad boy’ of Indian badminton because I used to call out what was wrong,” she asserted.
“In India, there is a herd mentality. But you should be acceptable of all kinds of individualities. For an individual to grow, you need to give her space. Else, you will not have sports persons in individual disciplines coming out as a regular process—once in 50 years, first time in 30 years, that will remain our story,” the Arjuna awardee maintained.
Jwala Gutta also spoke regarding the earlier generation of badminton players in India, especially about Prakash Padukone. “He was a good boy! Also, he contributed immensely to the sport. I wish he spoke out more, really. He actually did speak out against the establishment, and to help the players but I wish he had done that when I was playing.”
“For us he is ‘Prakash Sir’, a good-looking man, also good in his sport – that’s a very rare combination for the Indian mentality. Even today, good looks and being glamorous is only associated with cricket and it’s acceptable without question. The same thing does not really apply to other sports in India,” she added.
Coming back to Badminton great Lin Dan, Jwala Dutta revealed Lin Dan would use his clever mind in the court to win the mental battle during a game.
“Lin Dan would probably look sometimes like a lazy player. But he’s not, he’s just smart. He knew how to make the opponent run. He used to literally walk on court! You cannot walk on court unless you know which area of the court the opponent is going to return to. That may have looked so arrogant, but he’s simply being clever. There are many champions but only a few legends,” she recalled.
“I trained in China in 2002 and I saw the whole research that goes into their scouting process. They bring children from the poorest families, they see how tall their parents or grandparents are, they get their entire history. If they have any tall genes, they’d put them in basketball or volleyball. The amount of research was thorough and staggering. From the time that they first hold the racket to when they become national champions, sportspersons in China don’t have to spend a single penny from their pocket. They’re taken care of even after retirement,” Jwala Gutta said.
“With this kind of a background, for them to have an individuality like Lin Dan’s is very difficult. It doesn’t suit their nature, it can be very overwhelming,” she concluded.