By Avishek Roy
New Delhi, Aug 1 (IANS): Sprinter-hurdler P.T.Usha has overcome many challenges in her illustrious career, but today she faces the biggest hurdle of her life -- running her dream project, the Usha School of Athletics, to produce champion athletes.
"Running and hurdling are far easier than running an academy," Usha sums up her eight-year experience of managing the academy at Koyilandy, a 30-minute drive from the coastal city of Kozhikode in Kerala.
She started the academy in 2002, with the state government providing land and some money, but thereafter money has not been easy to come by.
"The financial crunch is crippling. We can't scout around the country for talent. We are struggling to have proper facilities; we only have mud tracks," Usha said.
"The Kerala government provided me 30 acres of land and Rs. 2 million. Not enough to equip an academy with synthetic tracks."
"Now Olympic Gold Quest (launched by cueist Geet Sethi and badminton great Prakash Padukone with hockey star Viren Rasquinha as CEO) has come out to help 20 of her athletes. That's not enough; it's quite tough to get people to pool in money for the academy," Usha told IANS in an interview during a visit here.
Usha is not one to give up. With grit and single-minded determination she is shaping up the careers of a few talented youngsters like middle-distance runner Tintu Luka, who is making waves in the women's 800 metre. Luka is seen as a medal hopeful at the Commonwealth Games in October.
Luka clocked her personal best, 2 minutes 1.24 seconds, to win the 800m gold at the All-Star Asian Athletic meet here Thursday. Usha feels that more and more international exposure would do her protege a world of good.
"In our days we never got exposure. I do not want these girls to meet the same fate. They need to compete in more and more international events. Their training needs to be properly managed. They need to chalk out their personal schedule in advance and plan accordingly," said Usha, who has over 100 international medals to her credit and yet she is remembered more for missing the bronze medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics by 1/100th of a second.
"Luka is very hard working. And she is improving fast. There are some other promising girls in the academy and they are performing well."
Usha said that the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) should provide world class training and competition to the youngsters.
"Last year I could not get entries for her (Luka) in some of the meets where I wanted her to compete because AFI did not forward the entries. This year I have been told that we will get to compete in two good meets before the Commonwealth Games."
Usha feels Luka should be a lot better by the time the Commonwealth Games get under way. She will participate in an international meet in England before running in a Diamond League meet in Brussels Aug 27.
Asked whether AFI is not sending the team for exposure trips outside, Usha said sending athletes for training in Ukraine, the preferred choice of AFI, is of little use.
"What is there in Ukraine? I do not want to send my trainees to places like Ukraine. We have better coaches here."
"We need to work at the grassroots level. There is enough potential in India, but what are we doing to reach out to hone the talent? The promising athletes need to be nurtured," says Usha.