| Geeta Zutshi (left) and Jyotirmoyee Sikdar on the second day of the inter-zonal junior athletic meet at Salt Lake Stadium Tuesday
Calcutta: Geeta Zutshi, Asian Games gold medallist and champion middle-distance runner is back in India after a hiatus of 17 years. And, her aim now is to produce an Asian champion in middle-distance running .
The zeal is obvious when Zutshi — who took over as coach of the Indian junior athletics team (800m and 1500m) in July — says she will soon be off to the North-east to scout for talent. But she hastens to add: “I’ll be in Calcutta SAI training the East Zone athletes whenever there is a break from the national camp.”
Zutshi, who won one gold and two silver medals in the 1978 Asian Games, was in the US from 1985. “This is my first stint as coach and I’m keen to work with junior athletes, where the actual talent lies.”
Zutshi singled out Iqbal Kaur as one of the best junior middle-distance runners in India. “I plan to pitch these youngsters against senior athletes. The stiffer the competition, the better,” she said.
The coach scoffed at criticism that she put her wards under excessive pressure. “See, I won the gold when I was only 21 and now we fail to produce medal-winning athletes even in the age-group of 25-26. If I could take that workload at that age, why can’t they'”
But when asked whether this would lead to early burn-out, Zutshi said, “The only way an athlete can burn-out early is by taking drugs. That is one thing that I keep my trainees away from.” Zutshi said she had declared on the first day of the camp that anyone taking steroids would dismissed. “If anyone is caught, my name is ruined, and I won’t allow that.”
On the theory that great athletes do not make great coaches, Zutshi said, “It varies from person to person, if I can understand the psychology of my student properly, there’s no reason why I can’t produce a quality athlete.”
About her own career and her long absence from athletics, Zutshi said, “I got an offer from War and Street Track Club in New York after the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. I joined them and did quite well, finishing fourth in the World Indoor Championships in 1987.
After that, Zutshi became a medical officer with an American company. “I worked there from 1989 till 2000. I could have carried on with a good job and a decent salary, but finally it was the love of the tracks that drew me back,” said the former champion signing off.