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Nihar Ameen: coach knows best

Nihar Ameen is both an articulate and efficient coach. Without mincing words, he says it is his way or the highway for those who seek his guidance



Nihar Ameen, Mandar Divase's coach, hopes that his protege will make it big at the Olympics — Photo: K. Gopinathan

IT IS difficult to find a coach, who is good at his job as he is with his words. Nihar Ameen is among the rare breed of coaches, who trains well and articulates his views with candour.

Nihar Ameen, a coach of National repute, with two decades experience, is not a man to rest on his laurels. With Olympics round the corner, Nihar, associated with the K.C. Reddy Swimming Centre, is busy getting another of his wards to qualify for the Olympics. Shikha Tandon, one of his wards, has already made it in the 50-metre freestyle and Nihar hopes that his new student Mandar Divase, the long distance specialist too would make it to the Olympics.

Mandar, the 18-year-old talent from Kolhapur made everyone sit up and take notice with his splendid performance in the senior National Championship at Kolkata, but his moment came in the SAF Games at Islamabad, when he cracked his own National and South Asian best in the 1500-metres Freestyle, clocking 16:30.83. Mandar's National record stood at 16:39.67. The heartening factor is that Mandar had had to motivate himself to get past his record.

"He was way ahead of his nearest Pakistani rival, Mumtaz Ahmed by 100 metres and finished a clear one minute ahead of him. That was a very good swim," says Nihar Ameen, pleased with his ward's show.

Nihar now wants Mandar to come up with a performance that would put him in the Olympics qualifying bracket. "I want him to do 16 minutes flat, which would straight away get him the qualifying norm and Mandar is fully capable of achieving that mark," says Nihar, with complete confidence.

The soft-spoken Mandar is clearly focussed on it. "The SAF Games was good and I enjoyed it every bit, but as my coach says, the Olympics is the main thing. I will do my best to qualify," adds Mandar. He gives full credit to his mentor for his performance. After he resigned from BSF, Mandar began training under Nihar prior to the SAF Games and put in three months of hard work.

"I had quite a few champions from my stable and Mandar is my latest trainee and I am impressed with his approach. He is dedicated and is a hard working swimmer. You will hear a lot about him in distance swimming," says Nihar Ameen.

Nihar hopes Mandar makes it to the Olympics before the June deadline and there are a couple of major international meets, where he could try his luck. Over the next three months there are FINA recognised meets in Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia. "I want him to make it to one of those meets," says Nihar.

Though the Swimming Federation of India has been very supportive, Nihar feels that fund crunch may be a major hitch. Nihar's another top swimmer is Rehan Poncha, who is now training in Australia, while Shikha is in the United States. "I wish Rehan had stayed back and trained here. International training doesn't seem to really help any one. But then I have to concede that they are making use of their SAI scholarship and if it does good to them, I am happy," says Nihar.

There's no denying Nihar's coaching abilities, but not many seem to be happy with his no-nonsense approach to training. "It is my way or highway for them. I had no problem with my swimmers, but only with their parents. They cannot be sitting on side-lines, pass judgements, and dictate terms to a coach," says Nihar. But hasn't there been charges that he concentrated on a select few and ignored the rest? "It is funny that I am being accused of playing favourites with swimmers. In my pool, everybody is equal and I have given full attention to everyone. But then let's face it, you can take a horse to the pool, but then it must be willing to drink water," explains Nihar.

Parental interference, and not the coach's lack of interest, is what caused all the rifts, asserts Nihar. "I have great regards for my swimmers. Nisha Millet was one of my early prodigies and I admire the way she came back in to competitive swimming after a surgery. She is capable of much greater things than what she's been doing now. I am not bittter that she is not with me or for that matter some others, who had opted out. ," says Nihar. To strike home his view on parental "misguidance", Nihar cites the example of Mandar. "His father fully left him to me and we have a professional relationship, which is aimed at making him a classy swimmer. That's all we want and I am not bothered about petty politics," says Nihar.

The man, who has produced and trained some great Indian talent, which include Meghana Narayan, Nisha Millet, S.H. Hakimuddin, and now Shika, Rehan, and Mandar, opines that there is nothing much for him to prove. "For the past 20 years, I have done my job in a professional manner and I might not have the numbers at KCR, but we have the quality that's what ultimately counts," says Nihar.

A welcome addtion to KCR is a set of swimmers from ASC, and Nihar is excited about finding some good prospects among them. "Ever since the ASC pool was closed, they have moved in here to train. And I am very positive that this tie-up would help me find a couple of swimmers like Shantanu and Sham Singh, who can really come up to the national level," says Nihar.

On the future of Indian swimming, Nihar has mixed feelings. "We have some genuine talent and our swimmers have done well at major meets like SAF, but then we have to look beyond the South Asian level and prove at truly international events. For that we need long term planning and a lot of hard work from our swimmers. Our federation might not be well heeled, but they are doing a job and there is enough encouragement for the swimmers. What we have been reaping are the results of what was sown in the past. There were some great contributions to State swimming by men like by Mr. Neelakant Rao Jagdale (President of KSA), who had charted the right course. The base for Karnataka's swimming and that of Indian swimming, was laid in 1980s and we have got our rewards," says Nihar.

But the coach concludes with a warning. "Let us not rest on laurels. It is time to kick start the Indian swimming again".

KALYAN ASHOK

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