Sriram: 'Indian middle-distance running is lagging behind'

Sriram Singh, about his four-decades old unbroken national record in 800m, said, “I think this means Indian (men’s) middle-distance running is lagging 40 years behind.”

Sriram Singh was the last Indian man to run in the final of an Olympic track event. (File photo from 1977)   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Records are meant to be broken and Sriram Singh is not exactly proud of the fact that his national record in 800m, set during the 1976 Montreal Olympics, is intact even after four decades.

The last Indian man to run in the final of an Olympic track event, Sriram, clocked 1.45:77s, finishing seventh in the final.

The 67-year-old, about his long-standing record, said, “I think this means Indian (men’s) middle-distance running is lagging 40 years behind.”

“There were a lot of difference in athletics in our times. The infrastructure is better now. The foreign exposure, including competitions, are being given. But the main reason why there is no performance is that the current crop are not being able to work hard like a Milkha Singh, P. T. Usha or a Sriram Singh.”

“The recipe for success is the chemistry between the athlete and his or her coach. Both should be dedicated in their work and there should be faith in each other,” he said.

Singh, like many of his ilk, believe that overpaid foreign coaches with little or no accountability, has not served any purpose for Indian athletics.

“The middle and long distance events have been neglected with no academies opened. The academies that have been opened are either for sprint events or for throwing events,” he lamented.

DO FOREIGN COACHES DELIVER?

“What is the performance of foreign coaches who have been roped in at high salaries?” Singh questioned.

“The high amount of salary paid to them should be spent on the Indian coaches. If they (foreign coaches) leave the country with some excuse, saying I don’t get this and that, what will you do? At least an Indian coach will be accountable for his performance,” Singh reasoned.

“The federation should figure out who are the good Indian coaches and they should be sent abroad to train under foreign coaches to upgrade their knowledge about coaching. My belief that by depending on others (foreigners), we cannot develop or sustain ourselves in the long run.”

He advised the government and Athletics Federation of India (AFI) to develop more high altitude centres to train middle and long distance runners.

“We should develop more high altitude centres and during summer, the athletes should be sent there for training and competitions should be held there. If we are feeling the humidity standing here, imagine the plight of athletes who are competing.”

“Unless, we develop enough high altitude centres, this country will not be able to produce good results in the middle and long distance races at the international level. Look at the Kenyans, they train at higher altitudes and they are getting desired results,” said Sriram, who is now settled in Jaipur.

He also backed Tintu Luka, who has not been able to better her personal best of 1:59.17, which she did in 2010 as a 21-year-old.

“I think age does not matter, it all depends on the performance whether young or old. There is not much effect of age on middle and long distance, say 800m, 1500m and 5000m. If Luka has done well, I think she can produce that performance again.”