Even at 72, India’s newly-appointed 400m and relay coach, Galina Bukharina had no qualms about taking up a job in a country she has never visited. An internet search and some inputs from her husband, who used to frequent the country, were enough to help her make up her mind to take up the tricky challenge.
She even flaunts her google-gained knowledge. “I know that the national anthem was written by Rabindranath Tagore and the duration is 52 seconds. I know about Patiala, the place where I am going to stay. I am pretty much prepared,” the Russian-American coach says.
“You know that the internet is a very good source of information. Pretty much for one week, I just tried to read about India and about the Indian track and field teams,” she adds.
You have to believe Galina when she says she’s prepared. It won’t be the first time that Galina will be moving out of her comfort zone. In 1989, she left her home in Voronezh, Russia, and moved to the US seeking better medical treatment for her daughter, who was suffering from cancer.
“I was finding no cure for her in Russia.”
She knew little about the country, and unlike now, did not have the internet to aid her either. Now, nearly 20 years later and after becoming a renowned coach at the Texas State University, the grandmother of three has decided to take the road less travelled.
Things are pretty different this time and very much in favour of her, unlike her move to the US which was met with a lot of hardship. The 1968 4×100 relay Olympic bronze medallist had to take up menial jobs to “survive and help her daughter”
“Oh! Don’t ask. I did not find an athletics job immediately. I did everything, I used to assist older people, clean houses, just to stay over there and help my daughters. For three years I had no steady job. I just tried my best to survive,” she tells The Indian Express on her arrival to the country.
Galina had no plans to settle in the US and wanted to return home after her daughter’s recovery. But as fate would have it, the Soviet Union collapsed, a couple of years after her arrival to the US, and made the mother of two prolong her stay.
It was while she was juggling between her jobs and managing her household chores, that she stumbled upon a newspaper advertisement for a coaching job at the Texas State University.
“I applied and got it.”
It doesn’t come as a surprise that she became one of the finest coaches at the university, leading her wards to victory at various NCAA meets. Her job, as she puts it, was not really “her level”. Prior to her stint at Texas, she had worked with the Soviet Union’s national setup at various levels for about 17 years.
“I’ve competed in the Olympics myself but as a coach I have been more successful. I used to coach the women’s (Soviet Union) 4×400 team. They still hold the world record set under me. 3.15.17s,” she says with a grin on her face. The record was set at the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea.
After serving at Texas University till 2011 and retiring as the head coach, she took a three-year break and became a “full-time grandmother”. She spent time with her daughters and husband – all settled in the US. But little did she know that her desire to return to the track would bring her to India.
“Well, I never thought this would ever happen. It is very exciting for me. I really missed track and I would say it is really very interesting to be coach of a national team. It’s my level. I know I am good with kids, but that’s not so interesting. It’s just to kill time,” she says.
“People asked me if I would like to go back to Russia and coach. I said no, you know the situation in Russia now. Do you want to go somewhere else, I said why not. I just got bored and that’s it.”
Galina knows her assignment in India will be anything but easy, but she’s not losing sleep over it. She has seen tougher times and has managed to not only survive but thrive. The extremely fit lady, landed in the Capital in the wee hours of Friday and spent most of her day at the Sports Authority of India and Athletics Federation of India office, completing her joining formalities.She is expected to reach Patiala on Saturday and take charge of the 400m one-lap national campers.
Now that Galina knows the duration of the national anthem, she would hope to hear it play after her wards win gold at an international event someday soon.
But before that she has to find out if what her husband told her about India was true. “He said there are a lot of cows on the streets here. ”
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