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Tintu Luka’s recent successes:
Will she achieve what her guru failed to? P.T. Usha may have missed a medal by a whisker at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, but great expectations are being pinned on Tintu Luka, a rising athletic sensation training under Usha’s watchful eyes. The burden of hope is not small: a gold from the 2012 Olympics in London, no less.
The going has been promising, given her winning spree. Tintu won gold at the National Athletic Championships in Bhopal in October this year and clocked a personal best of 2:53 minutes in the 800 metres event. The same month, she won another at the 49th National Inter-State Athletics meet in Chennai.
The 20-year-old village girl from Kannur district is now readying for the next big event—the 18th Asian Athletic Championships, which began on November 10 in China. Tintu will participate in the 800 metres event at the Guangzhou Olympic Sports Centre on November 13. “I’m sure she will win laurels at Guangzhou,” says Usha. “Gold or silver? That depends on several factors but I won’t stretch her too much, for our real target is the London Olympics.”
O.M. Nambiar, Usha’s former coach and Dronacharya recipient, says middle-distance runners have always been India’s strength so Tintu is the best bet for an international medal. Depending on the competition slots, Tintu sometimes competes in the 400 metres event too. “But 800 metres is her forte,” says Usha, as she puts Tintu through a staggered speed-and-endurance session.
Tintu was brought to Usha’s sports training school in Kinalur, 40 km from Kozhikode, after her uncle saw a notice in a newspaper. “Tintu was fragile and undernourished, but she was aggressive,” says Usha, who now believes the girl could prove the best Indian athlete for years to come. Through training, Tintu, now lean and muscular, has been able to surpass Usha’s yearly targets and that’s the reason for her coach’s confidence in her. Once the China meet is over, Usha will train Tintu for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and seek to better her best by getting her to do 800 metres in 2:02 minutes.
Like Usha, Tintu has had to face hard times. Her father is a mason and struggles to support his wife and three daughters. Tintu had to walk 5 km daily through hilly terrain to get to her school in Kannur. But encouragement from her parents—both excelled in sports at school—was never wanting. Lissy Luka, her mother, was a state-level long-jumper in the 1980s. “Despite our financial difficulties, we encouraged Tintu to take an interest in sports,” she says. “That my daughter has been adopted by Usha, who used to be my role model, is a great boon.”
Asked if she’s tense, Tintu replies, “I’m never tense. I rehearse the event mentally. I pass through every phase of the lap, sticking to my time for each segment, right up to the victory stand.” Which means she already sees herself winning in China. And when she returns, guess what she’ll make a dash for...a plate of Malabari biriyani!