On the day her coach, OM Nambiar was named in the list of Padma Shri awardees, PT Usha called him a ‘mentor’ and ‘father figure’ who took her from obscurity and helped her shine on the biggest sporting arenas around the world, including the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. As it happened, on Monday Usha had called on ‘Nambiar sir’, now 89, and had tea with him at his home in Payyoli.

“We had gone for the engagement of my husband’s niece. It took place close to Nambiar sir’s house. So, I dropped in. He insisted that I have a cup of tea. I sat with him for a while and he was happy. He is old now and does not step out of his home too much. But whenever I meet him, I relive a lot of memories. It is only after we reached home that we heard the news that he is a Padma Shri,” Usha said.

From 1977 to 1990, Usha was coached solely by Nambiar. It was he who asked Usha to focus on the 400 metres hurdles ahead of the Los Angeles Olympics, where she missed out on a medal by one-hundredth of a second. Nambiar’s decision to switch to hurdles came after Usha had won the gold in the 400 metres at the Asian Track and Field meet in Kuwait.

“Nambiar sir instilled confidence in me that I could be the best in the world. Looking back, we didn’t have great facilities or diet but the sheer will of Nambiar sir and his passion helped me win multiple medals for India. I am happy he is being recognised with the Padma Shri award but I believe he should have got it much earlier,” Usha said.

When PT Usha won five gold medals and a bronze at the Asian Athletics Championships in Jakarta in 1985, she didn’t have a physio or masseur by her side. Coach Nambiar multi-tasked and made sure she was fit to run 11 races, including the heats, in just five days.

“Without Nambiar sir, I would not have been able to achieve what I did for the country. I was lucky he mentored and coached me for so many years. From almost nothing, he helped me achieve greatness.”

List of awardees

P Anitha: A former India basketball captain, Anitha has represented the national team for close to two decades. She also holds the record for being the only woman to play for India at nine Asian Championships.

Mouma Das: The table tennis player received the Arjuna Award in 2013. A two-time Olympian, Das has won multiple Commonwealth Games medals, including team gold at the 2018 edition.

Anshu Jamsenpa: She is regarded as the first woman in the world to scale Mt Everest twice in five days. She is also the first Indian woman to scale the highest peak in the world five times.

Sudha Singh: A national record holder in the 3,000m steeplechase, Sudha has multiple continental medals to her name, including an Asian Games gold. She also represented India at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

Virender Singh: The freestyle wrestler has won three gold and a bronze medal at the Deaflympics in four appearances He received the Arjuna Award in 2015 for his achievements.

KY Venkatesh: Winner of multiple medals at various international para-sports events, including the World Dwarf Games.

Madhavan Nambiar: The 89-year-old was the long-time coach of PT Usha, who finished fourth in the 400 metre hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and won multiple medals at the Asian Games.

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