The passion to coach is still there

FOR one who used to dream of wearing the India blazer as a sportsman in his Air Force days, O. M. Nambiar ended up becoming one of India's top coaches, a `Dronacharya' who was recognised for giving P. T. Usha to Indian athletics.

S. R. SURYANARAYANAN

O. M. Nambiar with his best pupil, P. T. Usha.-K. GOPINATHAN

FOR one who used to dream of wearing the India blazer as a sportsman in his Air Force days, O. M. Nambiar ended up becoming one of India's top coaches, a `Dronacharya' who was recognised for giving P. T. Usha to Indian athletics. At 73 years when one would have expected him to sit back and enjoy retired life, Nambiar still remains active. He has two trainees (school children) from his neighbourhood to keep him busy and he is confident at least one of them will take the Usha route. Known for his candid assessment of all he had seen and involved himself, Nambiar gives a brief on what was, what is and what can be done for Indian athletics to glow at the international stage.

Question: What has been the post-Usha phase for you?

Answer: My interest continued in training new talent. I had taken 10 girls from Kerala under my wings in the Sports Authority of India. They had begun to make progress and helped Calicut University in the inter-varsity competitions. But then things began to happen. Kerala Sports Council approached me and said since the girls were from Kerala, the coaching should be done under the auspices of the Kerala Sports Council (KSC) at SAI facility. I agreed but no sooner that was done came the setbacks. KSC reduced the diet allowance and I did not get extension in service. One thing led to another and I could not continue....

You had said soon after Usha left the scene that you would bring another talent of Usha's calibre.....

Yes, Sukumari was my next best bet in the 400m. She won five gold medals in the national championship. Sukumari then represented India and won a silver in the Asian Junior Championship in Singapore in 1999. There was another girl Linette Mathew on whom I had high hopes. But I could not afford to train them long for the reasons said earlier.

The sports scene in Kerala is not as encouraging as it was earlier thanks to dwindling support from Government?

Absolutely. I may be wrong but I cannot help saying that Kerala Sports Council is now least interested in the development of sports in the State. There is not one sports expert in the standing committee of the KSC. There is none then to understand and act on behalf of the sportspersons. Simply put KSC is now a politicised body where the stress is to stay in the post. This is the reason for sports in Kerala taking a downslide. In fact I will even say that had it not been for the SAI, which still spends a good amount for sports in the state, in particular basketball, volleyball and athletics, things would have been in a far worse position.

What is your opinion on the state of Indian athletics as such?

Very discouraging thanks to the drug menace. It is difficult to find an athlete who is not on drugs. Just see the situation: wherever good testing facilities are there, Indian performance is bad. The use of drug seems to be widespread. It was not there earlier when I was actively involved in training camps at Patiala and other places. Certainly when Usha was at her peak we did not know of such things. I dare say Usha would not have resorted to such means even if she had known because she was in a class of her own. The problem with drugs is that once an athlete starts using then he or she cannot perform without them. Then there are health problems to go with it. If you ask me it is a depressing scenario now and I shudder to think where all this will lead to.

O. M. Nambiar still nurtures the desire to produce athletes of calibre.-V. GANESAN

Coming to your life after the glorious days with Usha, do you miss those moments?

How can I ever forget those great moments! When I was young I used to be good in athletics and have won medals. I was a champion decathlete during my Air Force days but all that did not help me attain the goal of representing India. Moulding Usha then fulfilled my desire of doing something for the country. Wearing an India blazer thrilled me. Yes, ever since, there is hardly a college or school in Kerala which has not invited me on some occasion or other. That continues even today, when at 73 I may be out of the system but not out of athletics. I still have two trainees, one in sixth and the other in seventh standard from my neighbourhood on whom I have pinned lot of hope. Sheer interest in the discipline and keenness to help good talent are things which keep me going. In fact I have already told KESPA (Kerala Sportspersons Association) in Chennai (incidentally he was honoured by KESPA) that if they are inclined to pick a few good talents in Tamil Nadu, I can help in training them. I told them I don't need remuneration but only a place to stay.

What do you have to say on Ken Bosen's death...

Undoubtedly he was one of India's best coaches. I had the greatest respect for him. He used to be my Guru. He was perfect in theory and practicals. I have learnt much from him. For his knowledge and excellence he should have been the first to get the `Dronacharya' award. But sadly he was bestowed that much later. For the best part of his career he had gone unsung. Bosen Sir's greatness was in the way he gave a work-schedule for an athlete with admirable clarity. When I decided on switching Usha to hurdling I had sought his advice first as also Jagmohan Singh and Muthiah, two other experts. Because the plan was to prepare her for the Olympics (Los Angeles) and I did not want to take chances. Of course you know how Usha took to hurdling, beat Valsamma in the Bombay athletics meet and then went on to almost grab a medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Considering the closeness of that Olympic finish, just 100th of a second separating Usha and the bronze winner, and the extent of deliberations thereafter, the two should have been declared joint third.

Can India make a major mark in athletics in the future?

We can, provided we plan the training schedules based on traditional strengths. That is pick throwers from Punjab, long and middle distance runners from UP, sprinters and jumpers from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and even West Bengal. Having seen Usha collect medals in the Asian meets, I am convinced that specialised training can deliver and raise expectations of India becoming a force at the Asian level.

You have gone through so much in your life, any plans to write a book?

I have already made jottings of my experiences from childhood. I am half way through. May be soon I will be ready to put it down in print. Yes, I will definitely come out with a book.