KOCHI: It’s early evening. A small red car, packed with eight young girls, some of them in the boot, arrives at the Maharaja’s Stadium. At the wheel is former international athlete Mercy Kuttan.
Mercy, the first Indian woman longjumper to cross six metres, has just begun her new athletics academy but she quickly realises that beginnings are tough.
“Funds are a big problem, convincing people too,” says the 1982 New Delhi Asian Games long jump silver medallist, who became a champion 400m runner a couple of years after that.
“Everybody wants results first, only then are they willing to put in funds. It is very, very difficult.”
Her wishlist is long.
Sponsors for her trainees, their kits, food, travel expenses and of course, a bigger vehicle.
And she is aware that the big dream, of an Indian athlete winning a medal in the next few Olympics, is virtually impossible.
“But I have to motivate these children, so I tell them to aim for an Olympic medal, tell them that they can do it. Only if you aim for an Olympic medal will you get an Asian gold,” says the 47-year-old.
P. T. Usha, who ran some very interesting races with Mercy a few decades ago, was a trend-setter of sorts when she launched her Usha School of Athletics some eight years ago near Kozhikode. And now, rather unfairly too, many are keen to compare the two academies.
“I didn’t start an academy because Usha did. I would have started one even if Usha hadn’t,” says Mercy. “I have an eight-year goal and the results will come after that.”
Mercy and her husband Murali Kuttan, the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games 400m bronze medallist who is a NIS coach, coach the eight girls and three boys at the Mercy Kuttan Athletics Academy, which will have its official launch in Kochi on Thursday.
The children, all under 13 years and selected from all over the State, will be trained in track events. “The field events, like jumps are more technical, complicated and need expensive equipment,” says Mercy, who was coached by her husband when she successfully shifted from the long jump to the 400m.
The academy’s main base is at the Sacred Heart College’s Lakeview Stadium at Thevara and the children have been given admission at the Sacred Heart School and stay in a flat nearby.
But the Thevara ground is soggy these days after heavy rain and the duo now train the athletes on the Maharaja’s Stadium synthetic track.
The hurdles are many but Mercy and Murali appear ready for the big challenge.