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Talent aplenty, but coaches under pressure

Stan Rayan
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BUDDING TALENTS:Athira Surendran (left) and Nayana James strike a pose after a successful day.— PHOTO: VIPIN CHANDRAN
BUDDING TALENTS:Athira Surendran (left) and Nayana James strike a pose after a successful day.— PHOTO: VIPIN CHANDRAN

: As the youngsters make waves at the 56th State junior athletics championship here, some with a long leap and some with a stunning run, there are many coaches watching them intensely.

Kerala is the country’s leading nursery in athletics, a heavyweight in National junior and Youth championships, but surprisingly the Sports Authority of India and the Kerala Sports Council coaches are a worried lot.

“We don’t get quality athletes for our centres, we virtually get the leftovers,” said Walter John, Thrissur SAI coach. “Very few appear for our trials. And we are under a lot of pressure if the results are not good or the target is not achieved.”

It’s not that Kerala has stopped churning out young talent. It does, loads of them every season. But strangely, the ones that show up are quickly grabbed by the many schools and colleges that have now ventured into athletics big time.

“Schools like St. George, Mar Basil (in Kothamangalam), Parali, Mundur, Kalladi (in Palakkad), Koruthode and academies run by Mercy Kuttan and P.T. Usha take the cream of the talent,” said P. Radhakrishnan, coach at the Kerala State Sports Council’s Throws Academy at Cherthala. “So, there are not many left for us.”

The problem began after the long reign of Koruthode’s C. Kesavan Memorial School as Kerala champion ended a few years ago. “Talented athletes were just going to Koruthode School till then,” explained Radhakrishnan. “But once it lost the State’s ‘best school’ tag, children began going to other schools and soon many new ones started showing interest.”

A trial called by Kothamangalam’s St. George’s School, a multiple winner of Kerala’s champion school title, attracted more than 1000 athletes. And some schools even offered money to lure the best athletes.

“But we just get about 150 children for our SAI trials,” said Walter John.

Thalassery SAI coach Jose Mathew is a lucky exception for he has had talented athletes like Mayookha Johny and Nayana James training at his centre.

So, what is the solution to the problem?

“We are not able to find a solution,” said Radhakrishnan, in despair. “And they start taking in children early, from fifth standard onwards, while we take them only from eighth.”

It’s a fact that schools spend big money — some of them almost Rs. 1 lakh per month just on food — on their athletes, and want instant results. Coaches overload the athletes during training to produce winning horses.

Media coverage

The media in Kerala also goes overboard when it comes to the State Schools Athletics Meet, often bringing out special pullouts and three to four extra pages for the event. The coverage for the schools meet even beats the space offered for the Olympics.

“Reducing the media coverage would help in a big way,” said Radhakrishnan. “And the overall title should be given to the best district and not to the best school, to tone down the competition.”

Walter calls for a tougher stand. “Stop the School Games,” he said.

That could have serious consequences though. The system which churns out talents year after year, and offers a central stage for new stars, could even completely break down.

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