Dronacharya OM Nambiar (89), the coach who turned PT Usha into a sporting legend, dies

PT Usha with her guru OM Nambiar.

Kozhikode: Veteran athletics coach OM Nambiar (89), renowned for turning PT Usha into a global star, passed away at his residence at Vadakara here on Thursday.

Nambiar was one of the first Dronacharya Award winners when he was bestowed with the nation's coaching honour in 1985.

A former Air Force man, Nambiar had crafted several unheralded talents into international athletes, none more famous than the iconic PT Usha, who missed a bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics by one-hundredth of a second.

"The passing of my guru, my coach, my guiding light is going to leave a void that can never be filled," Usha tweeted.

Nambiar, who gave wings to a skinny young girl turning her into the Payyoli Express, had been an athlete himself. His tryst with athletics took him to the Air Force in 1955.

He had developed into a fine athlete at the national level, but his dream of representing India never materialised. He wouldn't have guessed back then that a young trainee would come along and materialise his dreams of being part of the Indian athletics contingent.

Nambiar had found his true calling in coaching and earned a diploma from the National Institute of Sports in Patiala that was the premium coaches' training centre in the country.

While Nambiar was coaching the services athletes, Colonel Godavarma Raja, a pioneering sports administrator in Kerala, invited him to be a coach at the Kerala Sports Council.

PT Usha with OM Nambiar
PT Usha with OM Nambiar in 1987.

It seems, the return to his home state was written in the stars, because during his time with the Kannur Sports Division, Nambiar spotted a lanky young girl called Usha at a selection trials.

When Nambiar took Usha under his wings, she was a teenager, full of talent, but a rough diamond still. In the years that followed, Nambiar developed Usha into a running machine, who ruled Asian tracks for years.

As Usha amassed her individual tally - three gold and one silver at Asian Games, two gold and silver each in Asian Championships, besides a host of medals at the top level - it validated the methods of Nambiar the hard taskmaster.

His dream of winning an Olympic medal through his beloved athlete could not materialise as Usha came agonisingly close in the Los Angeles Games in 1984, finishing fourth in 400m hurdles, missing the podium by the narrowest of margins.
But Nambiar had gifted a legend to Indian athletics and that will be his lasting legacy.

OM Nambiar
OM Nambiar training athletes at the Payyoli Beach in 1998. Photo: Musthafa P

Usha had maintained a close connection with her guru and she had visited him even last week to inform him about India's unprecedented success in track & field at the Olympics, through Neeraj Chopra, an honour he had so desired for his beloved trainee.

On Thursday, Usha was struggling to convey her emotions. She, however, aptly described her pain in the tweet: "Words cannot express his contribution to my life. Anguished by the grief. Will miss you OM Nambiar sir. RIP."

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