Ukrainian-born coach Yuri Ogorodnik, at the ripe old age of 77, remains the man with the magic wand for the Athletics Federation of India (AFI). After nearly six months during which the pros and cons of appointing Ogorodnik were weighed by the sports ministry and his return hitting a roadblock in March, AFI has got its way and the appointment of the coach is now imminent.
Ogorodnik was sacked following the 2011 doping scandal involving almost the entire 4×400 metre women’s relay squad — all his trainees — which won gold at the CWG and the Asiad. The long-standing coach has had multiple stints in the country since the early 2000s. However, with the objective of seeing the relay squad reach the finals of the Rio Olympics next year, the AFI has been untiring in its push to hire the services of the Ukrainian.
AFI president Adille Sumariwalla has called on the sports minister, the sports secretary and the director general of the Sports Authority of India to impress on them the pressing need to have the coach, who has the experience of working with the Indian relay squads in the past.
The AFI’s renewed efforts were necessary after Ogorodnik’s return to India looked unlikely in March when the sports ministry concluded that his dismissal nearly four years ago, in the light of the dope scandal, was a black mark and hence decided not to hand him a new contract. That he is nearly an octogenarian and has been ill also went against him. But now the persuasive ways of the AFI seems to have worked and Sumariwalla says Ogorodnik is on his way back, a development a top official in the sports ministry confirmed on Thursday. “The AFI has received an unofficial commitment from the sports ministry that Ogorodnik will be offered a formal contract. It is likely to happen this week. The AFI is clear about the fact that he can produce results and we have conveyed the same to the sports ministry and the Sports Authority of India. While his contract was terminated in 2011 after the athletes tested positive, he has not been indicted by the two probes conducted in the aftermath of the doping fiasco. The athletes themselves have blamed the supplements, which they bought from the market, for the positive test. Moreover, our athletes have faith in him and believe he can help them achieve their potential,” Sumariwalla said.
An AFI committee of athletes, including Shiny Wilson, Jyotirmoyee Sikdar, Bahadur Singh and Manjeet Kaur have also recommended Ogorodnik’s name. With the athletics season underway around the world, it was also difficult for India to lure an established coach as most of them would have already signed contracts and begun training other teams. “It is important that we have a coach who is familiar with our athletes and knows them well. If a new coach is brought, it will take him or her at least a year to understand the training needs of our athletes and by that time the Rio Games will be upon us,” Sumariwalla added. “Yuri has already submitted a detailed training plan from January 1, 2015 till the end of the Olympics for our individual athletes. He has been able to do that because he has worked with most of these girls earlier.” In the absence of a foreign coach, who could be the unifying figure, the core of the women 400 metre runners, who will form the relay squad, are training at two different venues with two different coaches. India is the defending champion in the 4x400m relay at the Asian Athletics Championships. But with just a month to go for the continental meet in Wuhan, China, the core group of 400 metre runners are splintered, one set training in Patiala while another trains in Thiruvananthapuram.
MR Poovamma, part of the squad which won gold at the last edition of the Asian Championships in Pune and at the Incheon Asian Games, is training under Mohammed Kunhi in Patiala. Also based there are Ashwini Akkunji and Mandeep Kaur. However, Priyanka Panwar, a gold medal winner at Incheon and Jauna Murmu, train under RS Sidhu in Trivandrum.
“Once Yuri is on board we will have one camp at one venue under one coach. When a foreign coach is around, athletes will have to train under him,” the AFI president said.