KOCHI: Twenty-six years ago when she made her Olympic debut as a 16-year-old in Moscow, P.T. Usha was shaken by the size of her opponents.
"They were all very tall and muscular, especially the Russians. And after running the 100m, I told my coach that I wouldn't do the 200," said the former Asian Queen in Palakkad on Tuesday evening. "Finally, after much persuasion I did. And I finished seventh in both the heats."
Now, as her most promising trainee Tintu Luka gets ready for her maiden international appearance at the Doha Asian Games, Usha the coach offered her some simple advice.
"I've told her not to worry about the result, told her to just soak in the experience. She may be running the 4x400m relay, so I've asked her to analyse her race and to think while running," said Usha. "And I've also told her not to allow anything to go her head. She is young, she's got a very bright future ahead of her."
Tintu is not worried, though. "There is no fear. We've been preparing for this for the last six months. And Usha chechi will be with me in Doha," said the 17-year-old, the brightest young star currently in Indian athletics.
Incidentally, Usha's best Asian Games came exactly two decades ago in Seoul where she won four golds (including one in the mile relay) and a silver.
Tintu who hails from hilly Irutty in Kannur District, has been coached by Usha for the last five years.
This year has been her best and with a stunning 55.15secs in the 400m at the recent Chennai inter-State championship, the junior is now giving many of India's star seniors a run for their money.
Was she surprised with her stunning Chennai run in her maiden senior national meet?
"No, the progress to the Chennai timing was not sudden, it was gradual. And my target for this year is 54.5secs. I know I can do it very soon," said Tintu, the first school girl from Kerala to be picked for an Asian Games.
When Tintu first came to Usha's School of Athletics, near Kozhikode, five years ago, it was a big challenge keeping her on track.
"Her upper body was moving so awkwardly, she seemed to be going off track often," explained Usha.
The youngster is yet to rein in her shaky top fully but she is now coming up with some very impressive timings in both the one and two-lapper.
"Watch out, she'll be coming up with some stunning times in the 800m too within a year," opined Usha.
Daughter of a mason, Tintu is a versatile athlete. "She is so talented, she can do a range of events.
And though she is not a short sprinter, she can beat some of the best sprinters in my academy. She is young, it's still not the time to specialise but I think she can be made into a champion hurdler," said Usha, who missed a hurdles medal by a whisker at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. "She is used to hurdling, so I'll try her in the hurdles next year. The 400 flat and 400 hurdles will make a good combination."
Tintu is not very tall, she measures 161cms but she is blessed with long strides.
And since she is too good for the girls, she often runs with a boy at Usha's School which, incidentally, has 11 girls. "And the good thing is, she grasps things quickly. I don't need to explain things to her a second time."
She is a coach's delight. Soon, India could be toasting her too.