For the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), Yuri Ogorodnik is the cure for all things plaguing the women’s relay team.
At 77, way beyond the age stipulated in the Sports Code to seek appointment, the Ukrainian expert has been awarded a lucrative $7000 (Rs. 4.41 lakh) monthly contract by the sports ministry, which formulated the code.
Not to speak that Ogorodnik is asthmatic, a heart patient and, above all, the one whose contract was abruptly terminated in the aftermath of the 2011 doping scandal.
Yet, on the recommendations of the AFI, the ministry overlooked the rulebook to appoint the controversial coach, who will be in charge of the women’s relay team’s preparations for the Rio Olympic Games.
So, why was the AFI so keen on getting Ogorodnik back?
The federation believes that the Ukrainian was behind the gold-medal winning performance of the 4x400m relay team at the Incheon Asian Games. Sources say some of the relay team members were getting tips over phone from Ogorodnik on steroid micro-dosing.
The results were outstanding. The team set the Asian Games record of 3:28.68, thus improving on the record of 3:29.02 set in 2010. All the girls cleared the dope tests.
The Incheon performance, it is learnt, has the AFI dreaming big and it is projecting the relay team as a potential medal winner in Rio. The tempting proposal was too hard to resist for the ministry, which had rejected it last year.
“This time, the file was cleared by the minister (Sarbananda Sonowal),” sports secretary Ajit Sharan told HT.
In the wake of Ogorodnik’s appointment, the AFI is conveniently downplaying the 2011 doping incident, which had shocked the nation and resulted in six of the country’s best women 400m runners being banned for two years.
“It was the handiwork of an insider who wanted to tarnish the image of the federation,” said an AFI official, thus giving a clean chit to Ogorodnik for the 2011 scandal.
HT, though, is in possession of the dope charts Ogorodnik used to prepare for his athletes since 2000, when he was first appointed as foreign coach.
Under his coaching (between 2004-2005), the top-five women 400m runners, including national record holder Manjeet Kaur, ran sub52sec races and the team reached the 2004 Athens Olympic Games relay final.
It’s a different matter that the athletes were not able to sustain the performance.
The Justice Mukul Mudgal panel, which was appointed by the ministry to probe the 2011 scandal, was extremely critical of Ogorodnik after it found handwritten doping charts from the Ukrainian’s room at NIS, Patiala. The ministry, though, didn’t appoint a handwriting expert to study the charts.
The panel said that Ogorodnik had purchased “cheap drugs from a foreign country and sold them at a higher price to athletes to make money”.
Sources say that with Ogorodnik’s return, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is bound to increase its vigil on the athletes.