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OM Nambiar Obituary | The Coach Who Defined and Redefined PT Usha

Leo Xavier |
Coach OM Nambiar’s legacy, sealed by the fact that he groomed PT Usha into one of the all-time Indian greats, will live on through her as well as the many other athletes whom he mentored.
PT Usha and coach OM Nambiar

PT Usha with coach OM Nambiar (Pic: File, PT Usha/Twitter).

Coach OM Nambiar, who mentored the great PT Usha, passed away in Vadakara, Kozhikode, on August 19 due to age-related health complications. He was 89.

Nambiar, one of the first Dronacharya Award recipients, and a Padma Shri awardee this year, was hospitalized a week back following a heart attack. 

Usha, whose career was defined, and redefined by Nambiar, termed the death of her mentor as a huge personal loss… A “void” that will never be filled. 

“It’s a huge loss for me. He was a father figure to me and my achievements would not have been there if he was not there. I met him only last week after Neeraj (Chopra) won gold at the Olympics. He could understand what I was telling him but he could not speak. But I think he recognized me,” Usha said.

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Nambiar, after retiring from the Indian Air Force, turned to athletics coaching, and was instrumental in nurturing several young talents into international athletes during his tenure with the Kerala Sports Council. His most famous protege was Usha, who missed a bronze medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics by one-hundredth of a second.

Usha began training under Nambiar when she was a high school student in the mid 1970s. She had joined the newly-formed Sports Division school in Kannur, Kerala, where Nambiar was coaching. Sports divisions were a new experiment at the time and Nambiar was part of a pioneering project in Kerala. The many sports divisions and hostels which are in operation now, based on the original model which had produced the likes of Usha, are the main breeding ground for athletes from Kerala who go on to become accomplished internationals. 

Usha and Nambiar’s partnership began at the Kannur sports division, with Nambiar spotting the potential in a young Usha, who in turn, had tremendous faith in her coach. The trust was so huge that when Nambiar asked her to focus on a new event -- trying it for the first time just two years prior to the 1984 Olympics just because the coach felt she had the potential to do well in the 400m hurdles -- she readily accepted. Rest, as they say is history, with Usha almost landing a medal in that edition of the Olympics. She dominated Asian track events for close to 10 years.

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Nambiar’s legacy, sealed by the fact that he groomed Usha into one of the all-time Indian greats, will live on through her as well as the many other athletes whom he mentored.

Usha still employs some of his training methods when she started her own academy nearly two decades ago. Many athletes, including internationals, train under Usha and she admitted that some of the drills that she uses are what Nambiar used to make her do as an athlete. Including the warm-up routine by running on the sands of the beach in Payyoli, where she had trained as a teenager with Nambiar. 

Usha finished fourth and missed out on bronze by a whisker. But even getting that close would have been difficult for her, despite the prodigious talent, had it not been for Nambiar. 

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While the Olympic medal eluded her, Usha, with Nambiar by her side, won five gold medals and a bronze at the Asian Athletics Championships in Jakarta in 1985. Post that, she continued to dominate her events at the continental level will the early 1990s.

Born in Kannur in 1932, Nambiar joined the Air Force and continued to pursue athletics. He retired in the early 1970s, completed his coaching diploma from the National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala, and joined the Kerala Sports Council. He was one of the three recipients of the first edition of the Dronacharya Award in 1985. 

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