At the recently concluded 400m nationals in New Delhi, a young runner turned to head coach Galina Bukharina for some “general advice”. Galina looked surprised. “How can I give you advice without knowing anything about you?” Galina replied with a normal smile.
The 76-year-old Russian-born coach, known for her no-nonsense approach, wanted to see the athlete before making any suggestions. The next day, Galina closely observed the athlete during his final and helped him with specific advice.
After a two-decade coaching stint in the United States, Galina took over as India’s chief 400m coach. But long before that she was part of the Soviet Union’s women’s 4x100m bronze-winning team at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. And two decades later, Galina led the Soviet Union women’s 4x400m team to a gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics with a world record time of 3.15.17, which still holds.
Spoke coach with 47 years of experience Indian Express She tackled challenges, telling members of the women’s relay team ahead of the Tokyo Olympics about form and the pitfalls of injury and finding talent.
It’s been a tough year for you…
These two years have been difficult for the whole world, especially for India. In the United States, all athletes, all universities compete. But we were no match for 21 months in the Olympic cycle. We could not go anywhere and had to stay in Patiala COVID-19 Situation. Seeing the same face and following the same routine every day can be stressful. Some people were down with Covid and some had injuries. But we still managed to retain the core of the men’s team but we lost the women’s team completely.
What went wrong with the women’s 4x400m relay team?
Chief runner Anjali Devi was injured in February. After that the whole team disintegrated. Everyone was upset. After that, Anjali decided not to undergo the surgery, which was a wrong call. With surgery, she could recover much faster.
You still spend a lot of time reading. How important is this?
Some coaches think they know everything. You have to keep learning throughout your life. There are lots of new techniques for training. Internet is completely open and you can get everything from there. I am checking the internet everyday not only about track and field but also other sports. I started coaching in 1974, so it’s 47 years now and I’m still learning. I want different ideas from different people. It helps train athletes who are recovering from injuries. I would rather go to the internet to watch some contests on loop than to watch some soap operas.
You’ve seen every race from the first heat to the two-day 400m national final. what did you see?
I was in Khelo India competition three years back. It looks like a completely different generation now. Lots of taller and fitter athletes. Under-16 girls are seen taller and fitter than under-18 women. It shows that the next generation of Indians is getting taller and fitter. Coincidentally, I was in Russia to get my employment visa before coming here. I was in the stadium to participate in a competition in the same age group and it was much better here.
Did you see any mistakes or flaws in the youth?
I just saw a lot of coaching mistakes. If you’re bringing in athletes nationally and if they don’t know how to get to the starting block, it’s the coach’s fault. A lot of kids were setting blocks with their heels. It is a very bad mistake that coaches should not allow this. The blocks are made of steel and athletes have to feel that they are not hitting the blocks but their Achilles. In just a few weeks, it will hurt.
Another common mistake I saw was that a lot of athletes were going into the block with their feet and this is absolutely wrong. If you go to the Internet, you will see how all the top athletes go to the block. They set their arms up first and then go back to set their feet into the block.
How was your short post-Olympic vacation in America?
I had some health problems. I had osteoporosis, I had some generative changes in my spine. It was near the neck and because of this I was having trouble moving my right hand. I had two spinal injections and just had my leave. I did a lot of exercises to restore motion in my arm. I am 76 years old now. I’m not getting younger or healthier.
What have you learned about India in the last four years?
In the USA, I saw how young people wait until they turn 18 to get out of the house. Here I saw how attached children are to their families. Once when Dharun’s (Ayyasamy) mother fell ill with Covid, she did not take a second and left the camp to be with him. (MR) Poovamma’s family follows her everywhere. I know that children who love their family so much can never think of doing anything bad. My daughter is partly like American kids. I live in Patiala and all the people working in the camp are proud of their family.