Indian athletics, through the years, has seen many ups and downs. Yet, the fact that the country has been unable to make a definite breakthrough at the world level remains.
So does the dream of a medal at the Olympic Games, in spite of the drought at the World Championships coming to an end through Anju Bobby George and her bronze medal in women’s long jump at Paris in 2003.
Now, a decade later and on the eve of another edition of the World Championships, it would indeed sound strange that the spark ignited by George has failed to galvanize the country to take the expected big leap forward in the intervening period. But those in the know of things are not surprised.
Ask them the reasons that have stopped India from making good progress, and they turn talkative. As did track diva P.T. Usha, who after having an illustrious career last a little over two decades is now fully engaged in guiding the fortunes of her academy — the Usha School of Athletics.
“The reasons are many. But what I feel important is that we have lacked in planning. Athletics is a sport of many facets wherein elements such as administration, talent identification, coaching, selection, competitive exposure and the struggle against doping are all quite important.”
“I would say that we collectively have failed to put a proper system in place to tackle these issues and what is still worse is that the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) continues to grope in the dark. Of course, it is true that there is little money in Indian athletics, but that cannot remain an excuse forever and this I think can be easily overcome if the AFI takes the lead, gives shape to a proper system and acts on it religiously”, Usha pointed out.
Concurring with Usha, Olympian Mercy Kuttan raised two points on coaching and competitions. “Indian athletics is totally competition-oriented today. We should have a different approach instead, wherein the focus would be on strengthening the base and building on it. It is no wonder that there is a definite talent drain at present as athletes without a proper base simply continue to wither being exposed to competitions almost straightaway.”
“I am also of the opinion that we need to look elsewhere than Russia and other States of the former Soviet Union for coaches. Their approach is totally unsuited for our needs as a quick analysis of our results at the international level would reveal”, Mercy Kuttan said.
Like Usha, Mercy Kuttan is also involved in running an academy. She said, “It is often a struggle, with little support from sponsors and the Government. But still I should admit that it is satisfying as it helps me to stay in touch with the sport.”
Usha’s take on the same subject too was no different. “At times I just get mad at myself. Particularly when athletes fail to take the load and one must time and again correct their mistakes. And then there is the question of sponsorship. But at the end of the day, I consider all these hardships as an opportunity to return to the sport which gave me so much in life.”