Tilakam Gopal, former India captain and one of the finest spikers ever to represent the country, passed away in Hyderabad after prolonged illness. He was 71.

The cremation will take place on December 19 at Bansilalpet on December 19 at 11. 00 am, according to family sources.

Many old-timers recall that this six-foot spiker was not just tall in height but in stature too by virtue of his amazing skills.

“I have rarely seen anyone who can smash the ball with such awesome power,” says L. Venkatram Reddy, former secretary of AP Volleyball association and the pioneer in promotion of volleyball in the state for more than five decades.

"Kismat hamara saath nahin diya," was Mr. Gopal’s often repeated expression of anguish whenever the topic veered about him being denied the prestigious Arjuna Award during conversations with The Hindu. He always regretted that when he was at his peak between 1964 - 74 no volleyball player was given that award for different reasons.

Interestingly, Mr. Gopal was a very fine athlete too holding the AP Police record for clocking 50.20 in the 400 m for 30 long years.

“I remember him training so hard that almost every session Gopal used to practice 500 smashes with his friend Ramesh Chandra acting as a setter and hit the same target repeatedly,” recalls Mr. Venkatram Reddy.

Coached by G. P. Balaram, Mr. Gopal played for Hyderabad at the age of 17 for Andhra Pradesh in the first of his 13 Nationals. He was once named ‘man of the match' against the European champions Romania in a Test match for his display.

One of the highlights of Mr. Gopal’s achievements was being member of the silver medal winning Indian squad in the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games and even led India in the five-Test series against the visiting Russians in 1966 which later on helped him to continue be captain in the Bangkok ASIAD in 1966 where India stood fourth.

The other highlight of his illustrious career was the bronze medal in the 1963 pre-Olympics in which he played a key role. He was a true all-rounder for he was also a qualified referee having officiated in the 1978 Commonwealth Games.

Mr. Gopal retired as Superintendent of Police in the AP Police Department and was also a very active member of the AP Volleyball Association. In fact, T. Gopal Trophy for B-Division league was held for many years.

S. Kodandaramaiah, former India coach, recalls that there were very few better stylists than Mr. Gopal in the game. “He was all grace despite his renowned skills of smashing away with ease. A complete player in all aspects,” he said.

Former India captain and Arjuna Awardee V. Ravikanth Reddy also condoled the death and remembered that he learnt many aspects of the game talking to Mr. Gopal. “He was a source of huge strength for all of us,” he said. “His killer instinct, his game and dedication were something which many youngsters should try to emulate,” Mr. Ravikant pointed out.

“Gopal was one of the finest players India has ever produced. His extraordinary jump smashes were a treat to watch and he was open of those who came up the hard way,” says Dronacharya Ramana Rao. "The volleyball fraternity will badly miss him," he said.

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