PERSONALITY Olympian athlete, Ashwini Nachappa speaks about what can be done to champion sports in the country

Huge crowds turned out to watch Indian athletics some three decades ago. The circuit had world-class runners like P.T. Usha and Shiny Wilson. There was also Ashwini Nachappa. The girl from Kodagu became a sensation when she shocked P.T. Usha at the Open Nationals at New Delhi and the International Invitational Permit Meet in 1991. Olympian and Asian star Ashwini not only stood out on the track. She turned out to be a versatile woman, for she went on to become an actress and later settled into the role of an educationist and an advocate for clean sport.

“I started when my family moved to Bangalore. There was a stadium opposite our house and my mother decided it would be safer for my sister and myself to play there than on the roads. It was there that I met Mohinder Singh Gill, who would give me a sweet for every lap I completed! ”

Ashwini’s parents were very encouraging too. “My parents were very supportive throughout my career. My mother used to be in the stands to watch me, right till the day I retired,” she says.

After bidding goodbye to professional athletics, she dabbled in acting, working on five Telugu movies including the hugely successful Ínspector Ashwini , which saw her don the role of a cop. She believes there is much to be done for sports . “Nowadays the interest of parents and children has shifted more towards education and sport has suffered as a result. In fact, there are some schools opening now that do not even have a playground!”, We need more facilities for athletes from the grassroots level, they require physical as well as mental training.”

It is this desire to take education and sport forward that has prompted Ashwini to start her own school, Karaumbiah’s Academy for Learning and Sports (KALS) in Coorg. the ‘Ashwini’s Sports Foundation’, in the school provides training in various sporting disciplines such as athletics, hockey and swimming. There are plans to have golf and air pistol training facilities. Ashwini believes that encouraging community sports and building a following outside cities is important in encouraging youngsters to take up sports. She hopes this approach will work with hockey in Coorg.

The best sportspersons from her school are being offered college seats by reputed institutions. “Though sport is what I have always been associated with, education is also necessary. I have been able to have a successful career outside sports because I was fortunate enough to have a college education. Many of the people I competed with and against have not been so fortunate. That’s why I decided to start a combined school and sports academy,” she explains. Now that the school is up and running, Ashwini has turned her attention to promoting clean sport. She is a founding member of Clean Sports India, that aims to facilitate better management of Olympic sports in India and discourage drug use among athletes. She has joined hands with athletes such as Mercy Kuttan and Vandana Rao to uphold the integrity of sport in the country.

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We need more facilities for athletes from the grassroots level ...physical as well as mental training