India’s most successful sprinter, PT Usha, is set to take on a marathon mission to scout and groom sporting talent in Gujarat, in response to a request from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Usha, nicknamed the Payyoli Express after the Kerala village where she was born, says the invite from Modi came last year when he was Gujarat’s chief minister.
“Since I was busy with the Commonwealth Games and Asiad, I couldn’t do much. Now, I will be going there next month to help them,” said the 50-year-old.
The sprinter said she was really impressed with the sporting infrastructure in Ahmedabad and Vadodara. “The selection trial will be held in main cities of the state between November 9 and 15. We are initially planning to select 30 (boys and girls) in the 11-14 age group. Apart from this, 10 older aspirants will also be inducted,” she said.
Modi, who has promised to foster a sporting culture in the country, said this week that the government was signing pacts related to sports expertise with various countries in its bid to provide athletes with better exposure and infrastructure.
Usha said she would help realise the PM’s dream of the country winning an Olympic gold in athletics. Her coaching and training mechanism will be similar to the Usha School of Athletics, which she founded in 2002 near her village in Kerala.
Since then her school has produced some of the country’s best athletes including Asian silver medallist Tintu Luka who was also a member of the 4X400 relay team that won gold in the Incheon Asiad, Sherbana Siddique and Jessy Joseph.
The Kerala institute that began with much fanfare is, however, battling a fund crunch. Though the state government provided land for the school, it failed to support the establishment further, Usha said.
“Since it is a residential school we need at least Rs 2 lakh for a junior athlete a year. Some sponsors do ease their wallets generously. But still, financial crisis has plagued us badly and we were on the verge of closure on several occasions,” said her husband V Sreenivasan, a former kabaddi player and swimmer.