Nambiar, coach of Usha, passes away

He transformed the village girl into Asia’s ‘Golden Girl’

O.M. Nambiar, the man who transformed a village girl P.T. Usha into Asia’s Golden Girl, passed away at Payyoli in Kozhikode on Thursday evening. He was 89 and is survived by his wife, three sons and a daughter.

One of India’s most famous coaches, Nambiar spotted Usha at a very young age in 1976 and soon began coaching her at the Kannur Sports Division. Under his guidance, Usha began winning medals at the Asian level but his best move was making the sprinter switch to the 400m hurdles before the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

And Usha almost came very close to winning independent India’s first Olympic medal, missing it by one hundredth of a second. That transformed the sport in the country and inspired thousands of children to take up athletics. The wait for the Olympic medal only ended early this month with javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra’s gold in Tokyo.

Usha conveyed the good news to Nambiar when she met him a few days ago.

Father figure

“He was a father figure for me, he spotted me as a little girl and took me to great heights as an athlete. He was with me through thick and thin,” Usha told The Hindu on Thursday night.

“Nambiar sir was my personal coach and I think I was probably one of the first athletes to have a personal coach. Those days, having a personal coach was very rare. And he was always proud about wearing the Indian jersey. I will miss him very much”

Usha went on to become one of Asia’s biggest names in athletics. Between 1983 and 1998, she won an astonishing 23 medals at the Asian Championships, including 14 gold and six silver. She also won five golds and a bronze at the 1985 Asian meet in Jakarta which is a sort of record.

A year later, Usha won four golds and a silver at the Seoul Asian Games, a record for an Indian athlete.

Nambiar, an athlete himself during his college and Air Force days, was honoured with the Padma Shri Award last year and the Dronacharya Award earlier.

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