By Shahina Kk
MANY ATHLETES would aspire for a podium finish in the upcoming Commonwealth Games (CWG). But for middle distance runner Tintu Lucka, 21, it is but a stepping stone towards a greater goal — the 2012 Olympics. And this dream is shared by her mentor, the legendary athlete PT Usha, who had won several international medals in her heyday. If Tintu’s dream comes true, she will reclaim Usha’s lost medal in the photo finish of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
No one missed Usha’s happiness when Tintu clocked 1:59:17 to smash the 15-year-old national record in women’s 800 metres, finishing at a commendable fifth spot at the VTB Bank Continental Cup in September in Split, Croatia. Even in her happiness, Usha was realistic about Tintu’s chances in the future. “For her, the best is yet to come,” she says confidently. In the CWG, Tintu’s chances are even given there are only six Commonwealth athletes ahead of her as per the current ranking. “On her day, Tintu can beat any one of them as a fraction of a second makes a lot of difference in races,” says Usha.
Yet, Tintu is leaving no stone unturned to ensure she puts her best foot forward. She practices every day for two hours in the morning and one-and-a-half hours in the evening.
In the star-studded Van Damme Memorial IAAF Diamond League in Belgium, she clocked 2:00:79 and finished eighth, giving strong signals of bettering herself by leading the race till the 600-metre mark, which she completed in 1:28:75. However, she failed to preserve herself for the final stretch of 200 metres. “She has to improve on her timing in the last 30 metres, which can be achieved by bettering her speed. Now I am focussing on it,” says Usha. She is pretty clear about the schematic training that Tintu needs.
The protégé, on her part, is high on energy and optimism. “I hope I will clock my best time,” says Tintu. Daughter of a mason, she hails from the hilly village of Iritty in Kannur district of Kerala. Her mother is a housewife. “Her parents are quite supportive of her because they also love sports,” says Usha.
Tintu belongs to the first batch of the Usha School of Athletics. Usha is focussed on training her on running better through the last 30-metre leg
While she excels in sports, studies have not yet taken a backseat for Tintu, who is pursuing her final year bachelor’s degree in commerce in SNG College, Chelannur, University of Calicut. Impressed by their student’s record, her teachers and friends have been supportive of Tintu. They help her catch up with her classes, which she often misses due to athletic meets and practice sessions.
Tintu belongs to the first batch of the Usha School of Athletics that started in 2002. She ranked 12th of the 12 girls that Usha had selected in 2002 for her school. Back then, she had bagged a few medals in long jump at the school level. Tintu was always a favourite student, not only for her skill and talent but for attitude too.
These days Usha is focussing on improving Tintu’s last leg running and finishing. The last leg of 30-40 metres is crucial in the mid-distance sprint, says Usha, adding that it needs systematic and specialised training.
For Usha, grooming budding athletes has been an experience of a lifetime. Not because each student has delivered the goods, but also because of the several roadblocks she has had to overcome. Funding, for instance, has been a huge problem. The early years of the Usha School of Athletics were not smooth. They had to operate out of a rented building in Koyilandi in Kozhikode. Eight years later, the school and Tintu have a different story to tell. The Kerala Government extended support by granting 30 acres on lease in Kinaloor, a village in Kozhikode.
WHILE TINTU is shining bright, other athletes like Silpa C, Aswathi Mohan, Nikhila Joseph, Anju Varghese and Sauparnika have also lived up to their promise.
Under Usha’s sharp guidance, sprinters like Silpa have had many creditable moments in national and international meets. She achieved her best time in 100 metres in the Asian Junior Athletic Championship held in Jakarta last year. Other bright sparks like Aswathi Mohan went up to the semi-finals of 400 metres in the World Youth Athletic meet held in Italy last year. And Nikhila Joseph is the under-16 national champion in 400 metres. Now they look forward to Tintu’s performance in the CWG, which will write a significant chapter for the students of the Usha School of Athletics.
Photo: T Mohandas