Belarusian middle-and-long-distance running coach Nikolai Snesarev, who trained multiple Asian Games medallists over nearly his two-decade association with India, has decided to end his tenure prematurely even though his contract ran till the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Seventy-year-old Snesarev wanted to focus on 3,000m steeplechase national record holder Avinash Sable for the Olympics but the athlete decided to go back to his army coach. No other athlete was training with the Belarusian.
The coach had drawn up a foreign camp-cum-competition schedule from December till the Doha World Championships in September but the sudden decision of the 24-year-old athlete to move out caught Snesarev and the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) by surprise. Snesarev, known as a hard taskmaster but with a reputation to produce podium finishers, then decided to turn his back on Indian athletes.
“Snesarev was keen to continue coaching Sable. In September, he had given Sable a detailed training programme to follow in the off-season and was to travel with the athlete to the Issyk-Kul region in Kyrgyzstan for a camp from December. Snesarev had also said that he did not need support staff as he was training only one athlete with a focus on the World Championship and the Olympics. However, all of a sudden Sable decided that he did not want to train with Snesarev,” an Athletics Federation of India official told The Indian Express.
Snesarev’s comprehensive plan for Sable included camps in Qatar, Belarus and Switzerland and comprised Diamond League competitions, subject to the athlete getting an entry.
“Visas, tickets and bookings had been arranged for Sable to travel. Snesarev, who had gone on leave, had told him to complete the off-season training schedule and join him in Kyrgyzstan. Everything had been planned to the smallest detail by Snesarev. But after Sable decided not to train with him, Snesarev has decided not to continue with his India job. Snesarev has produced results over the years but if an athlete does not want to train with him, the AFI can’t force him to. Snesarev was planning to retire from coaching after the Tokyo Games and there was not enough time to groom a youngster or an upcoming athlete before the Olympics,” the AFI official added.
In the first half of last year, Snesarev was coaching eight athletes. But the group disintegrated as some, including junior national 800m champion Beant Singh, decided to opt out of Nikolai’s camp while the coach himself was not keen to invest in the others who he felt were not motivated enough during training.
Last year, Snesarev had raised concerns about Sable to the AFI. “Something strange is going on with him (Sable). He did not practise already for one month, complaining of his injury but nobody (doctor in Dharamsala as well as highly-qualified specialist in sports injuries in New Delhi) can identify any injury. It looks like he is permanently following the guidance of his army coach Mr Amrish Kumar, who wants Sable to leave the group of Dr Nikolai Snesarev,” the coach wrote. In September last year, Sable had broken Gopal Saini’s 37-year-old steeplechase record at the Open National Championships in Bhubaneswar. He had been training with Snesarev prior to the Asian Games but an ankle injury in the run-up put paid to his plans of travelling to Jakarta.
Over the years, Snesarev has had multiple stints with the Indian contingent. Among the athletes he has coached are medal winners at Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Asian championships including Preeja Sreedharan, Kavita Raut, Sudha Singh, Lalita Babar and OP Jaisha.