He is the senior-most athletics coach in the country, boasting of wards such as Ashwini Nachappa, DY Biredar, Satish Pillay and Uday K Prabhu. A Bangalore native, his wards revere him for his discipline, dedication and passion. Meet 91-year-old N Lingappa, a bundle of energy, and considered by many as one of the doyens of athletics coaching in the country.
However, life has not been easy for this nonagenarian. He has waged a long and arduous battle, first with the Karnataka government, over his pension, which he got much later. This was followed by his countless written applications to the Centre for the Dronacharya award.
On Friday, Lingappa was finally conferred with the Dronacharya Award, the highest sporting honour for a coach in the country. “I am happy that this panel led by Kapil Dev has finally recognised my efforts…the Almighty has answered my prayers,” he said with a smile.
Would he have shot off another letter to the Centre, if he was ignored this year? “Yes. I would have,” he said. “After years of being snubbed, I asked my father to stop writing (to the Centre). But he insisted that he would do so till his death,” said Lingappa’s son L Nagaraj.
Lingappa was an athlete himself and represented the erstwhile Mysore state for seven consecutive years in the National Games. A 10K walker, he also part of the contingent for the 1954 Manila Asian Games. “ I won a silver medal in 10,000m walking during the first National Games that was held in Delhi in 1954. I was also selected for the Asian Games in Manila the same year, but sadly my event was cancelled,” he said.
Lingappa then cleared the coaching course exam conducted by the Athletics Federation of India in 1956. This was followed by three stints as an assistant coach for three Olympic Games from 1956-1964.
He says the stint with the Indian team at the Olympics helped him hone his skills as a coach. “I learnt a lot in my stint. It helped me understand the needs of my wards and helped harness their talents,” he said.
The essential attributes for an athlete, Lingappa says, is to develop endurance and then speed. This has to be followed by proper weight training, and a nutritious diet. This is a simple creed but one that has stood the test of time for this revered coach.
The coaching honour he received is unlikely to change Lingappa’s daily pilgrimage.
“Despite the Dronacharya, life will go on… I will still be travelling on my TVS Scooty every morning to the Kanteerava stadium to train my students,” he said.
Lingappa also took a dig at the abysmal sporting culture, the lack of proper infrastructure for athletes and the government’s complete apathy for distinguished sportsmen in the country. He cites the example of KC Shankar, one of his promising wards, who won the 110 m hurdles event at the All India Police Games in Haryana. “I recognised his talent, helped him…but the state government did not care for him,” Lingappa rues.