Updated: March 20, 2021 1:41:03 pm
India’s chief 400 metre coach Galina Bukharina has one of the most high-profile jobs in Indian track and field. The 76-year old Russian-American has been a coach for two decades, including four years in India, but says the pandemic year has even tested her.
In a chat with The Indian Express, Galina talks about dealing with a performance slump in the 400 metres squad, one of the reasons being athletes unable to travel home, and how she and her wards are hoping to bounce back.
How have you and your wards dealt with Covid restrictions?
This has been the hardest year of my coaching career. The morale of the kids is a little down because they want to go home, meet their families but are not allowed to go anywhere due to Covid-related restrictions. This is one of the reasons they are not running fast. I can’t fix a training cycle because two days after doing well there’s a dip. Indian kids are so attached to their families but it is impossible to visit them. They are not even allowed to go till the gate (National Institute of Sports)
Do you think the restrictions should be eased up a little?
It is better to keep them safe. I always try to convince them that this is not a bad time for just them but everyone in the world. But they are young, they sometimes ask. ‘coach will they allow us to go to McDonald’s or somewhere to eat. We are so bored here.’
A lot of your campers are injured. Why is that so?
There are a lot of injuries because they are mentally fatigued. The athletes understand they will be able to compete (abroad). Arokia (Rajiv) will go to Iran to compete in April. He could not run because he had stomach pain and had very strong antibiotics. But we still have 94 days. The athletics federation is planning an outing for us soon.
The campers organised a birthday party for you. Were you expecting it?
It was the best birthday of my life. They organised everything. It was so good. Boys dressed in red and girls in white. Lots of balloons. I was touched. Even my dog (kallu one of the many strays Galina feeds at the NIS campus) was really happy.
So these dogs are your friends?
One, two and three (points at the dogs around her). I have three friends. This one lives with me in my apartment. He has his own bed. Without me, he isn’t going anywhere. But I have to tell you that I have made a mistake. He is too attached to me. I don’t know what I will do when I have to travel. He is there for all the training sessions and everybody knows him.
How did you deal with pandemic personally? Did having a pet make things a bit easier?
In America, I always had dogs. A lot of dogs and I worked as a volunteer who helped homeless dogs. I cannot live without dogs. Right now I am feeding eleven dogs. There’s so much leftover food in the kitchen. I got them doggie food but they don’t like it. They prefer rice over doggie food.
How is your team shaping up?
I have to bring them back (to form). Right now they are not showing very good results. I have to find a way. Only three people are in good form; Amoj Jacob, Arokia Rajiv and Mohammed Anas. The rest of them are in bad shape. Noah (Tom), Alex (Antony) are injured. It is some kind of psychological block. I spoke to the senior-most AFI officials. They understand the situation.
Do you still go for long walks?
I have lost four kilos (laughs). I have diabetes and I have to watch what I am eating. I don’t eat Indian food. I cook and eat by myself. I am fine, I don’t suffer.
How did you keep yourself busy?
I am coaching 29 kids. When I start coaching someone, I get emotionally involved with them and I have to do the best for them. I usually have two shifts.
What do you do to take a break?
I will tell you but don’t laugh. Playing poker online. I never put money on it, I’m too smart to do something like that. I know you can never beat the computer. Actually, I am pretty much a gambler. I like Backgammon and it’s my number two game after poker. I like taking different educational tests and internet quizzes. For example, ‘if you know ten good answers to twelve questions, check your level’. I am never bored and then I have Skype. I Skype with my husband, kids and grandkids. I like to read a lot.
Do you like living in the staff quarters here?
I like India and I like people. All these people know me. I do miss my grandkids. One of them is eleven and he is a pretty good hockey player in Texas (pauses to greet kids waving at her). I am good friends with this family next door. They have a daughter who is a veterinarian so if I need help with any of my dogs, she does a check-up.
How is your relationship with the federation?
The federation is doing everything and I cannot complain. Sometimes we have disagreements but it is alright. They have helped me to have two very good assistants and they have their assigned roles.
What will you do to ensure that our athletes overcome this slump?
It is sad. We have to practice, practice, practice. To show good results, we have to have a lot of competitions. Now, we don’t have any. If I tell the federation that we need more competitions, they say ‘tell us where and when and we will send you’. But we don’t know where. Poland has no competition. Two years ago we were in Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic), and we had five competitions over there and we showed a lot of good results. That was a very successful year for us. We need only competitions and nothing else. We need an open world. I think we have to wait like the rest of the world.
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