‘Life as a coach is tough’

“Tintu Luka has the potential to do much more,” says P. T. Usha of her ward, in this exclusive chat. By P. K. Ajith Kumar.

On August 8, as Tintu Luka took her position on the track for the 800m heats at the Olympic Stadium in London, her coach, P. T. Usha, became nervous. According to her she wasn’t as tensed even when she prepared to run the 400m hurdles final in the Los Angeles Olympics, 28 years ago.

Interestingly, it was also August 8 when Usha ran her most famous race, in which she missed an Olympic medal by one-hundredth of a second. If it was a Moroccan athlete (Malika Akkaoui) that Tintu narrowly beat to the fourth place to qualify for the semifinals in London, the gold in the 400m hurdles in Los Angeles was also won by a Moroccan, Nawal El Moutawakel.

“Life as a coach is tough; as an athlete I never felt as nervous as I do before Tintu or any other ward of mine runs a race,” Usha told Sportstar in an interview shortly after her arrival in India from London. “I am glad that Tintu ran that race well and reached the semifinals.”

But she is not content. “Tintu has the potential to do much more,” she said. “Remember she is just 23 and she has already run 800m twice inside two minutes, something no other Indian woman could do; and she did that in events like the Olympics and the Continental Cup.”

Usha was pleased with her ward’s efforts in London. “It was unfortunate that she had to run in the second semifinal, which was by far the toughest of the three,” she said. “I had told Tintu that it was from that semifinal that the four would qualify for the final and that was what happened. She should have managed her opening lap better.”

Tintu finished her semifinals with the 11th best time in London. “That is significant and it will help her get invitations for important international meets like the Diamond League,” Usha said. “The good show in London has also boosted her morale. She is much more confident now. My next aim for her is to run in 1:58. Actually I was hoping that she could do it at the London Olympics.”

Usha is already looking ahead to Rio 2016. “Tintu will be a medal contender there,” she said. “And there would be one more 800m runner in Rio from the Usha School of Athletics — Jessy Joseph, who has been making rapid strides.”

Tintu Luka (extreme left) on way to qualifying for the semifinals of the 800m in the London Olympics.-PTI

Usha said that as a coach it is gratifying to see Tintu’s progress. “She has reached where she is without training with any foreign coach. And we shouldn’t forget how some of our athletes have fared after training with foreign coaches. While the Government spent crores on some of our Olympic stars, all that Tintu got was just Rs. 650 per day from April this year. The school has spent Rs. 27 lakhs on Tintu so far.”

Usha is happy that it is money well spent. “But the school needs sponsors as we find it very difficult to meet the expenses, and all our major sponsorships are coming to an end this year. I hope the Government continues to support us; I am grateful to Sports Minister Ajay Maken, who had given us a grant of Rs. 5 crore for laying a synthetic track at the school. The school could move forward only with such help.”

Usha singles out K. T. Irfan’s 10th place in the 20km walk in London. “For someone so young and with so little exposure, that was a superb effort,” she said. “I congratulated him in London and asked him to remain focussed. He is one for the future, surely.”

Among Usha’s unforgettable moments from London is Usain Bolt’s magnificent 100m race. “The ease with which he won it was amazing; he is God’s favourite sprinter,” she said. “And I will never forget David Rudisha’s world record in the 800m. What a performance that was.”

From the Indian point of view, Usha said she was disappointed with Mayookha Johny and Renjith Maheshwari. “I thought Mayookha’s chances would have been better in long jump in London; it was unfortunate that she could not meet the qualifying mark,” she said. “Vikas Gowda and Krishna Poonia lived up to the expectations. Overall, I thought India performed very well in athletics. Probably this is our best show on the track in Olympics since 1984.”

Usha was all praise for India’s medal winners from London. “I felt proud watching Saina Nehwal and Mary Kom winning bronze medals,” she said. “And I am very happy for Sushil Kumar; it was a stupendous effort winning back-to-back Olympic medals. He is such a nice boy too; always polite, humble.”

London was Usha’s first Olympics as a coach. She is confident that it won’t be her last. “Tintu will have her successors from Usha School. Watch out for our young girls,” she said.

Such confidence augurs well for the future of Indian athletics.