Nikolai Snesarev confesses he is the “grandfather to all the long-distance runners” in India. “At my age, I cannot be their daddy,” he says in jest. The Belarussian, who has been in India since 2005, has shaped the careers of the three medallists — Preeja, Kavita, Sudha — and many more.
But even as the three gave Snesarev all the credit for their success — even saying this would be their last international competition if the Belarussian went back to his country after his contract ends — the government is yet to recognise his contribution to athletics here.
“With the coach's contract expiring on Nov 30, none of us will be able to recreate this magic again,” said Preeja. “We sincerely hope he stays or else, this is quits for us,” she said. “The training imparted by him in the last four years gave us the confidence that we could win on the big stage.”
The coach himself is bitter. “Seven days are remaining for my contract to expire, and I haven't heard from anyone. In the last three-and-a-half years, I've only got three-and-a-half weeks' leave. It's shameful that they deduct the amount when I go on leave,” he said.
All the three winners vouch for the work ethics of the coach. “I got married in 2008, but once I went to the national camp in Bangalore, not once have I visited my husband.
“He is a strict disciplinarian and perhaps that's the reason why all of us have given such a good result," said Sudha.
Ditto for Preeja and Kavita, who have not visited their families in Kerala and Nasik in the last four years.
The coach himself says that for long-distance runners, even a break of six weeks from training is not recommended. “Then you have to start all over again.” But all the three athletes are willing to endure their long stay away from family and friends if only their coach stays back.
“If his contract is not renewed, our dreams of competing at the Olympics and the World championships will be shattered. The day he leaves we quit the sport,” said Kavita.
As for the coach, his stay has been quite comfortable in India. "I found plenty of talent here. My motto is, there are no bad students, there are bad teachers.
“So, I always strive to set a good example for them to follow. Perhaps, that is the reason why I haven't gone back to my native place more often."
Did it surprise him that three frail-looking girls beat the best in the business?
“ Of course not. This country has enough talent. As I said, you have to be a good teacher and results will show.” For now, the man who shaped India's gold dream on track, doesn't know about his future.