For more than four hours, Galina Bukharina, the 74-year-old Russian-born coach, took down notes during the 4th leg of the Indian Grand Prix at Tau Devi Lal Stadium. She was keeping a close eye on her trainees, among them some of the country’s top quarter-milers and Asian Games medallists. Athletes Muhammed Anas, Rajiv Arokia, M Povamma and V Vismaya got feedback from the 400-meter coach. “Patience and practice,” were the two key words she repeated.
The message also holds good for someone like Hima Das, the rising star and World U-20 champion. In her first race of the domestic season, at the previous edition of the GP in Sangrur, she clocked an underwhelming 55.19 seconds. Having coached Das over the past few months, Bukharina says, the 19-year-old with a personal best of 50.79 will need some time to scorch the track again. After her breakthrough at the junior world championships, Hima won silver at the Jakarta Asian Games.
“I know she jumped too high in terms of timings according to her age and there were expectations from her. To stay at this height, she needs one or two years of practice again and will have to start from scratch. After all those races and the packed schedule, she decided to sit for her exams. Even though such things are not good in the middle of the season, it is still a long route for the Olympics. To keep your focus, one should have everything in life settled. We allowed her a break of six weeks but believe me, six weeks is too much of time in an athlete’s career. When she rejoins the camp, we have to start from scratch. But she has the talent to do so and she knows how to remain focused. We will sit down and discuss when she returns,” Bukharina says.
It will be two years in May since Bukharina joined the Indian athletics team as the foreign coach. At the Asian Games, her trainees, including those who comprised the 4×400 meter relay teams, won one gold and five silvers medals. Now the focus has shifted to the Asian Athletics Championships next month in Doha and the World Championships later this year. The Indian team recently spent 79 days training in Turkey and the coach is all praise for her wards except for two irritants.
“I love all my athletes for their hard work. There are only two problems which I have faced till now. First was the delay in arriving for training, which they have understood and completely respect it now. The second thing is that sometimes they have this ‘escape feeling’ when they compete in India. When we were in Turkey or competing abroad, they never hesitate to compete. But here in India, they are not consistent in competing. Performances go up and down but we need to push them to be consistent and braver in the competitions. And I love this challenge,” Bukharina says.
Bukharina is a citizen of the United States but had coached the Soviet Union’s women’s 4X400 relay team, which still holds the world record of 3:15:17s set in Seoul in 1988. She was also part of the bronze medal-winning relay squad at the Mexico Games 20 years earlier. When it comes to race strategy, she is rather sound. “The 400m race is absolutely different from other races. It means that your body needs more oxygen to run fast for this distance. The body needs more than 25 litres of oxygen to run this distance. The body even draws oxygen from your brain and it takes more than 10 minutes to recover after this race. There are two types of runners in the 400. One coming from sprint races and other from endurance races. India does not have sprinters who can run sub-10 second timings. So I have to work on converting Indian sprinters to 400 meter runners. Arokia and Anas are endurance runners, while the likes of Jeevan and Jithu Baby are sprinters. The one who is a sprinter runs the first 200 meters fast. Nobody can run the first 200m and last 200 m fast. The main idea is how to decelerate in the last 200m. There are different strategies for decelerating. You can die immediately or you can just die slowly. But make sure that when everybody finishes, you are ahead of them (laughs).”