Last-minute worries for Tintu on the road to Rio

"Our London visa came rather quickly but there seems to be a delay in getting the Schengen visa for our trip to Prague after that," coach P.T Usha told Sportstar in a telephonic chat on Wednesday evening.

Asian champion Tintu Luka (right) with World Record holder South African Caster Semenya.   -  Special Arrangement

She was supposed to catch a flight to London from New Delhi on Thursday afternoon but till about 6.30 p.m. today, Asian champion Tintu Luka and her coach P.T. Usha were not sure about their departure time from Kerala.

“Our London visa came rather quickly but there seems to be a delay in getting the Schengen visa for our trip to Prague after that,” Usha told Sportstar in a telephonic chat on Wednesday evening.

“And that could the reason why we have not got our flight tickets to Delhi from either Kochi or Kozhikode so far. Probably, we will now catch a morning flight to Delhi and leave for London tomorrow night.”

Last-minute worries are nothing new to Tintu, also the 2014 Asian Games women’s 800m silver medallist and the national record-holder (1:59.17s), but an athlete who is getting ready to open her international season ahead of this August’s Rio Olympics, surely deserves to be in a better frame of mind.

Tintu’s road to Rio will begin with the British Milers Club Grand Prix at Watford, near London, on Saturday and the event will see her competing against Britain’s seasoned Jennifer Meadows, the former World championship bronze medallist and indoor Worlds silver winner.

The 27-year-old will then be competing in the Josef Odlozil Memorial in Prague, Czech Republic, on June 6.

“It will be wonderful if we get three below-two minute races during this trip,” said Usha. “It does not matter whether she wins and loses, we can spot out mistakes in such quality races. They will also help her get the right pace to handle the star runners.”

EARLY BIRD

Tintu was one of the first Indian athletes to qualify for the Rio Olympics, making the grade at the Beijing Worlds last year where she clocked 2:00.95s in the heats (Rio standard 2:01.50).

She plans to go below two minutes in the first bunch of meets and then fine-tune things back home in Kerala before travelling abroad for another couple of races in July.

“Tintu is in good form and we want her to go below 1:59s this season. That sort of timing should help her to qualify for the final but the semifinal will be tougher than the final,” said Usha.

BEST PHASE OF HER CAREER

Tintu is in probably the best phase of her career.

“She has never had a stronger start to her season as she has had this year, clocking 2:01.84s during the New Delhi Federation Cup a few weeks ago. That’s a very good sign,” said Usha. “Usually, she does something like 2:03.”

Her desperate ‘head shaking’ during the second lap has come down too, from around 200m to just about the last 30 or 40m.

“That’s a massive improvement. We had bought special equipment for breathing exercises and it has been a big help.”

Still, all that will matter is how Tintu handles the big girls at Rio on August 17 in the opening heats.

South African Caster Semenya, who was asked to take a gender verification test in 2009 to prove that she was a woman soon after her Berlin Worlds triumph, is now close to her best, clocking a stunning 1:56.64s a couple of days ago. Nobody has run faster in the world in the last four years.

That sort of timing should send a shiver down any runner’s spine.

Not Tintu’s though.

“Semenya is a very friendly girl. She frequently comes to us and has a chat. So, Tintu is not nervous while running against her,” said her coach.

Not a penny for Tintu under TOPS

It’s strange and shocking. Asian 800m champion Tintu Luka, who was one of the first athletes to qualify for the Rio Olympics, is yet to get a single penny under the Sports Government’s Target Olympic Podium (TOP) Scheme. “We have not got a single paisa from the TOP Scheme so far. We write letters and they write a reply. This has been going on for some time,” revealed Usha.

“There are many athletes who have not even qualified for the Olympics. And the Government is spending lakhs on them under the TOP Scheme. If athletes are training under a foreign coach, the money is given immediately. I get the feeling that athletes who train under Indian coaches are not eligible.”

Usha said she has spent around Rs. 90,000 for Tintu in the last two weeks, including Rs. 30,000 to fast-track their British visas. “But nobody has given us anything.”