Coach Rai finally gets his due

Coach Rai finally gets his due

Purushotham Rai

Purushotham Rai, who retired as a Sports Authority of India (SAI) coach in 2001, had to wait nearly two decades to get his due. It finally took a self-nomination option from the sports ministry for the athletics coach from Karnataka to win the Dronacharya Award in the Lifetime category.  

In the usual process, the State association recommends the names of individuals in different categories to the National body, which in turn submits the list to the sports ministry. “It’s (the award) definitely taken a long time to come. Sometimes, my name didn’t appear in the State body’s list and sometimes, the national federation didn’t recommend my name,” Rai told DH.  

This year, the sports ministry allowed athletes to self-nominate for the National Sports Awards in view of the “difficulties faced by them to find eligible authorities to recommend amid the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Rai hoped the new option stays. “The award gives great satisfaction because I got it without any association’s recommendation. I was judged solely on my contributions. I am happy the ministry introduced such a rule,” he said.

Despite the long delay, not once did Rai doubt get bitter. “Awards are always like that. There is no point in getting bothered when you don’t get them. Throughout my career, I fought for my athletes. I questioned the big names when I felt my athletes were treated unfairly. My trainees are everything to me and coaching was my sole focus. That’s why, after my retirement at SAI, I moved to Sree Kanteerava Stadium and continued coaching a small group,” said the coach, who passed out of NIS Patiala in 1974.

Rai, who dedicated his award to his athletes, SAI, and his family, is the third athletics coach from Karnataka after VR Beedu and N Lingappa to win the Dronacharya award. 

In a career that spanned over three decades, Rai moulded the likes of Ashwini Nachappa, Pramila Aiyappa, Rosa Kutty, MK Asha, Jaicy Thomas, SD Eashan, EB Shyla and Muralikuttan into international athletes. “For me, punctuality was very important. For many athletes, I have convinced them to choose a discipline and almost all the time, I was right,” pointed out Rai, who was a decathlete.

Former sprinter Ashwini, a multiple international medallist, is grateful to Rai. “He was my first coach. As a young girl starting off, he made the journey so much special. It’s because of the kind of belief he had in my talent that I went on to taste so much success. I won my first national medal under him in the U-13 category. The journey continued after that and there was no looking back,” she recollected.  

Pramila, the former heptathlete, remembers him as a calm coach. “I never saw him angry. It’s his immense patience that has made him such an eminent coach,” she felt.

On August 29, when the 79-year-old gets recognised on the occasion of National Sports Day, his patience will finally pay off.