OM Nambiar, coach and mentor of India’s sprint queen PT Usha, dies at 89

OM Nambiar is one of India’s first Dronacharya award winners and a Padma Shri but is best known for moulding PT Usha during the 1980s and 90s.

By Utathya Nag
Picture by PT Usha/ Twitter

Indian athletics coach OM Nambiar, who is credited with discovering and coaching India’s sprint queen PT Usha, died at the age of 89 on Thursday.

PT Usha, a former Olympian and multiple-time Asian champion sprinter, grieved her mentor’s passing and said, “The passing of my guru, my coach, my guiding light is going to leave a void that can never be filled. Words cannot express his contribution to my life. Anguished by the grief. Will miss you OM Nambiar sir. RIP.”

Born in 1932 in a small village near Payyoli in Kannur, Kerala - incidentally also PT Usha’s native place – Othayothu Madhavan Nambiar was a track and field athlete since his college days.

OM Nambiar joined the Indian Air Force in 1955 and continued his athletics career, representing the Services.

Despite various successes at national meets, his dream of representing India remained an unfulfilled dream during his athletics career.

As a coach, though, Nambiar lived that dream and much more.

OM Nambiar earned his coaching degree from the famed National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala and began his career by training athletes from the Services (Army, Navy, Air Force).

He came back to his native state in 1970 after taking up an offer to serve as a coach for the Kerala Sports Council.

It was during this stint that OM Nambiar spotted PT Usha while attending the prize distribution ceremony after the selection trials for the Kannur division in 1976.

What followed was an incredible student-teacher relationship that propelled PT Usha to become one of the leading Asian sprinters of her era.

In fact, it was on Nambiar’s instance that PT Usha famously participated in the 400m hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, where she lost out on the bronze medal by 1/100th of a second but cemented her place in Indian athletics folklore.

In 1985, OM Nambiar was named as one of the three recipients of the Dronacharya award (India’s highest recognition for sports coaches) during the honour’s inaugural year. He is often remembered as one of India’s first Dronacharya.

OM Nambiar went on to guide PT Usha throughout her illustrious career and also moulded several other promising talents from the country.

In 2021, OM Nambiar was conferred with the Padma Shri – India’s fourth-highest civilian award.