Meeting P T Usha

The Golden Girl - PC: Usha School of Athletics

The Golden Girl
PC: Usha School of Athletics

P T Usha has inspired several generations of Indian athletes ever since she made her debut at the Olympics in 1980. In an illustrious career she accumulated a wealth of Asian and national medals, and nearly got an Olympic medal in track and field events, something that still eludes the country.

She continues to contribute to the sport through her academy in Kerala. Usha School of Athletics has produced a world class middle distance runner Tintu Luka, and several Asian and national medal winners.

I met P T Usha right after the IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2013. She had just returned from Moscow after accompanying Tintu Luka as her coach. I was working on an assignment for Russia and India Report – a news project by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

In the interview she spoke at length about the state of the sport in the country and what it would take to bring medals home. She said that through her academy she aims to scout and nurture talent, and groom them in all aspects of athletics training.

She said that stronger domestic competitions have to precede international wins –

“Very few Indian athletes qualify for the Olympics. Contrast their numbers to those of Russia or USA. They’ve plenty of runners who clock very close timings. How does Tintu Luka feel pushed if the runner behind her manages to finish in more than two minutes? We need our athletes to compete more at the international level in IAAF approved events, and get the experience of playing at top-class level, so that we may never have a situation when an athlete feels nervous or under pressure.”

P T Usha stressed that there can’t be any achievement without the personal determination of the athlete. She reminisced about her own journey as an athlete when she used to train relentlessly and obsessively–

“I was mentally very strong and I was prepared for the pain. I did everything my coach told me without bothering about my aching body or a lack of decent tracks. In those days we had to go to Patiala or Delhi to practice on synthetic track. Back home, I used to run on footpaths, along train tracks, almost anywhere.”

Meeting Pullela Gopichand

PC: Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy

Here are some excerpts from an exclusive interview I did with the iconic badminton coach Pullela Gopichand for Russia and India Report–a news project by Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Pullela Gopichand has contributed immensely towards the success and popularity of badminton in India. He has coached most of the leading Indian shuttlers. Speaking in the context of Russian players being included in Premier Badminton League and Indo-Russian sporting ties, he shared a slice of nostalgia.

“Till about mid 80’s Indo-Russian test matches used to be organised. I was fortunate to witness one of these matches. I had just started training in badminton and for the first time ever I saw someone jump and smash. The player was Andrei Andropov.” Andropov was the leading Russian shuttler at that time.

Gopichand remarked that most Indians prefer cinema and television over sports for entertainment. As I was representing a Russian publisher, he shared an amusing anecdote from the Indian National Junior team’s tour of the Russian Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk in the 1990s. 

The team was taken for a sightseeing trip. They visited a theatre and were told that it was the biggest in the area with a capacity of 200 people. The Indian team wasn’t the least bit impressed and boasted that we’ve about 20 of these in an even smaller town. It so happened that during the same tour they also visited a massive sports complex. The shrewd liaison officer didn’t miss the opportunity to quip, ‘how many of these do you’ve in your country? We’ve 20 of them in Khabarovsk.’ Clearly they had been trumped.

Gopichand reiterated the often-proposed solution that in India sports should be given a far greater importance as a means of fitness and recreation. He rued the lack of sports infrastructure in the country, “Let’s say that about one percent of the people decide to play, are there adequate arenas available?” When I mentioned about the inclusion of sports in school curriculums in India and Russia, he said, “Let’s enquire how often students can actually utilize these facilities. Twice or so in a month is not the ratio we are hoping for. There has to be an effective inclusion of sports in our lifestyle.”

Interview: Shiva Keshavan

Team India at Sochi. PC: Shiva Keshavan

I interviewed the six time Olympian Shiva Keshavan while he was preparing for the Sochi Winter Olympics. He spoke about his training plan, the international luge calendar and contesting with the support from IOC and corporate sponsors. 

Continue reading for the full article that was published in Russia and India Report, July, 2013:

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A Football Talent Hunt with a Difference

I took these pictures at the inaugural match of a football talent hunt for underprivileged children. The event was organised by UK based Consortium for Street Children (CSC) in collaboration with some Indian NGOs, including Salaam Baalak trust.

The star players at the match were Vikash Dhorasoo and Renedy Singh. Dhorasoo is a former French midfielder of Indian origin. He is also known for the documentary ‘Substitute’ he filmed during the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Renedy Singh is the former captain of the Indian national team.

While Renedy kept mostly to himself and avoided the media, Vikash was engrossed in the activities on and off field. Renedy was his spirited self when he was on the field with the enthusiastic kids.