Bringing smiles to Indian athletics

Jisna Mathew bringing smiles to Indian athletics-S. RAMESH KURUP

A natural on the track, Jisna Mathew is on the verge of greater laurels. By P. K. Ajith Kumar.

During a photo session on an overcast June afternoon in Kozhikode, P. T. Usha had to remind her most famous ward, Tintu Luka, several times about the importance of a smile. Her other ward, Jisna Mathew, needed no such prodding. She beamed happily, brightly.

Jisna looks a natural in front of the camera. Just as she does on the track. One had seen her on the track at the Mangala Stadium in Mangaluru in early May at the Federation Cup. She did not win any medal there, but the race she ran to finish fourth in the women’s 400m was enough to convince everyone that she was a star in the making.

One had travelled to Mangaluru, on the train, along with Usha, Tintu and Jisna. The legendary athlete turned coach had spoken highly of Jisna.

“I am fielding her at the Federation Cup because I feel she is ready for senior events,” said Usha, who had picked Jisna from the high ranges of Kannur district in northern Kerala. “I am sure she would do well, though she would be competing against some experienced athletes.”

That faith was not misplaced. Jisna made a statement in a race that featured seasoned runners like M. R. Poovamma, Tintu and Anu Raghavan. That show was good enough to fetch her a place in India’s 4x400m relay team for the Asian championship in Wuhan, China. Usha was also the coach of the relay team, which also included Tintu, Poovamma and Debasree Majumdar.

In spite of fielding what was a relatively inexperienced team, India won the silver and Jisna got her first international medal at the senior level. “It was exciting to be part of the Indian team, along with champion athletes like Tintu and Poovamma,” Jisna told Sportstar. “I rather enjoy competing with senior stars.”

Before going to Wuhan, Jisna had taken part in the Asian youth championship in Doha. She won the silver in the 400m in what was her maiden international event. She did it in style, clocking 53.84s, her personal best. It was also the third best time clocked by an Indian woman this season; remember she is by a few years the youngest of the 400m runners in the country.

Usha said she had high expectations about Jisna right from the beginning. “She is perhaps the best sprinting talent that came to the Usha School of Athletics,” she said. “She has most of the basic things a good sprinter requires. She is willing to work hard and is a confident girl.”

The coach sees the potential in Jisna to also be an 800m runner. “She could clock sub-two in 800m,” Usha said. “Within a few years, she could give stiff competition in that event to my two other trainees, Tintu and Jessy Joseph.”

At the moment Usha is more concerned about improving her time in the 400m. Jisna is now training for the World youth championship to be held in Cali, Colombia, from July 15 to 19. “A medal is not beyond her,” Usha said.

Jisna’s face lit up when she heard that. She smiled once again, happily, brightly.