He is the silent force behind the success of many of the country's leading athletes. A man of few words he preferred to let his wards do the talking with their deeds on the track. Having nurtured and coached three Olympians and many other international athletes in the last decade it was fitting that the Kerala State Sports Council's inaugural ‘Kayika Acharya' award went to Thankachan Mathew.
The 42-year-old physical education lecturer from Alphonsa College Pala was naturally elated when he selected for the award. It took some coercing from friends and well wishers for Thankachan to apply for the award. “To be honest I wasn't expecting it. But nevertheless it is an honour to have got the inaugural award ahead of several other accomplished coaches. I had forgotten about it as I had applied for it nine months ago. This award would motivate me further,” he said modestly.
Humility has been his hallmark and it is something which will strike those who have met him. But he is a tough taskmaster and has knack of getting the best out of his trainees. “I am like a friend and well wisher to my trainees,” he says. There were occasions when he would go out of way to extend help to a struggling athlete – monetary and otherwise.
A former Kerala University champion in 400m, Thankachan Mathew took NIS from Bangalore after completing his post graduation in physical education from LNIPE Gwalior. He joined SAI in 1994 as coach and in the next year joined St.Thomas College, Kanjirappally. It was during his stint at St.Thomas that he groomed K.J.Manoj Lal into an Olympian.
Sensing that Manoj Lal had inherent talent as a sprinter, Thankachan switched his event from 5000m to 400m and 800m. Within three years Manoj Lal came into national reckoning and did 400m in 46.01s and represented India in the Sydney Olympics.
But it was after he joined Alphonsa College as coach in 1998 that he started producing athletes of good quality. The success of Alphonsa College as MG University champions for the last six years owes a lot to his dedication. It was at Alphonsa College that he nurtured Beijing Olympians Preeja Sreedharan and Sini Jose.
National record-holder and Beijing Olympian Preeja Sreedharan had time and again acknowledged the help and guidance of Thankachan Mathew in grooming her career. Reshmi Bose and Sajeesh Joseph are other two athletes who made it big under his tutelage.
Despite coaching athletes in all events from sprint to long distance, Thankachan considers himself as a middle distance specialist. “ I love to train athletes in distances from 400 to 1500m. Maybe it had something to do with my career as I was a middle distance runner,” said Thankachan Mathew who has also passed the IAAF's level II coaching certificate in 2005.