It is strange how one man’s passion for the sport has been instrumental in producing national-level pole vaulters. Despite this feat, his academy is being sidelined by the authorities. This, in essence, is the story of K.P. Satheesh Kumar, a former national-level pole vaulter and the man behind Jumps Academy at Allappara near Pala.
Satheesh has coached national-record holder K.P. Bimin, K.C. Dija and Sinju Prakash, who won silver and bronze at the National Games held in Kerala earlier this year, in addition to the new kid on the block Maria Jaison. After taking voluntary retirement from Tata Steel, Jamshedpur, Satheesh returned to his native Allappara in 2000 and started to coach aspiring youngsters from the locality. In the last 15 years, Jumps Academy has become the synonym for pole vault in the country. Onmanorama spoke to Satheesh about his academy, future of the sport and what keeps him going.
“First of all there are very few knowledgeable pole vault coaches in the country. For India to win international level medals, the coaches have to get the exposure, then only they can pass it over to their wards. At present I am depending on Internet to keep in touch with the latest coaching methods and technique. I also speak to pole vaulters like Bimin to exchange ideas and become a better coach,” the 58-year-old coach says on why a medal continues to elude India at the Asian level in pole vault.
Satheesh elaborates on the present scenario of the sport in India. “The fibre poles are very expensive. Most of them cost close to Rs 50,000 and there is always the possibility of them breaking down during practice or competition. An athlete like Sinju or Maria needs at least four to five poles for training and competitions. But because of scarcity of poles, most of them they will have to manage with one or two.”
Satheesh, who currently trains 16 athletes at his academy, says lack of support from the state government as well as the Sports Authority of India is a big obstacle. “Recently I had a call from an Indian journalist based in the Gulf and he wanted to know when will Jumps Academy win an international medal. “Please make a visit to my academy and then you will realise how we are defying the odds,” Satheesh told the scribe.
For the past one-and-a-half years, the Municipal Stadium at Pala is under renovation and it has adversely affected the performance of the athletes.
“Take the case of Sinju for example. I expected her to give a tough fight to national champion V.S. Surekha last year, but there has been a dip in her performance and it has a lot to do with the training facilities over here”.
“For weight training, they have to go to the academy’s gym at Pala and for jogging and other exercises they have to go to the nearby college grounds,” he says.
The academy’s training ground, which is barely one kilometre from his small home at Allappara, is leased out to Satheesh free of cost by Pappachan, a well-wisher. “We are continuing because of the support of people like him.”
Satheesh also pointed out some support he has received from the Directorate of Sports and Youth Affairs.
“We have a portable synthetic runway and it costs Rs 4 lakh. Also we got poles worth Rs 6 lakh. But we have absolutely no facilities for training when it rains. In fact there is not a single indoor pit in the country.”
Satheesh says the sport is a mixture of physical fitness and technique. “You have to be really fit and need good shoulder strength to pursue the sport. My heart skips a beat whenever the pole vaulters make an attempt, especially the women, as most of them are physically not that strong. Fortunately there has not been any major mishaps under my training.”
Satheesh is hopeful that Maria, who broke the junior national record recently, can achieve higher goals. The 17-year-old won the gold with a personal best of 3.70m at the Open National Athletics meet in Kolkata on Saturday, while another Academy product Krishna Rachan clinched the bronze and Sinju finished fourth.
“Maria is very promising and had finished second at the Asian Schools (Track and Field) Championships at Kuala Lumpur in 2013. The apathy of the Indian team management was shocking as they could not arrange to send Maria’s poles. We had to courier them at the last minute.
“The same thing happened during the World Schools Athletics Championships in Brasilia in Brazil in 2013. Maria’s poles were missing and that time we couldn’t courier them either. So finally she had to compete with a pole borrowed from the organisers and she could not cope well with it. When you are talking of competing at the top level, everything has to fall in place, then only the medals will follow,” says a rather sad Satheesh.
So what keeps him going? “Well the fact that close to 60 of my wards have secured jobs and settled in their lives. That’s a big achievement for me. As for me, I am getting a salary of Rs 15,000 per month now, earlier it was even less,” he says.