Belarusian Nikolai Snesarev, who was appointed as India's middle and long-distance coach till September by the Sports Ministry, passed away in his room at Patiala's National Sports Institute (NIS) on Friday. He was 72.
Adille J. Sumariwalla, president of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), confirmed the passing away of Snesarev.
"AFI is deeply shocked to learn about the sudden demise of the recently-appointed middle-long distance coach Dr. Nikolai Snesarev in Patiala," said Sumariwalla in a statement.
"It's a natural death as per the doctor's report. The police has been informed," said Sandip Pradhan, Director general of the Sports Authority of India in New Delhi in a statement.
"We are stunned by the news that coach Nikolai was found dead in his room on Friday. He returned to India only a few days ago, having agreed to train steeplechase runner Avinash Sable for the Tokyo Olympic Games. We will cherish his long association with Indian athletics and will miss him," Sumariwalla, a former multiple national sprint champion, said.
Who was Nikolai Snesarev?
Sumariwalla said India was fortunate to have benefitted from Snesarev's rich experience for a number of years.
"He was a hard-taskmaster and one who developed his own training routines for his athletes. He was highly respected in the international circles and we were privileged that he shared a wonderful relationship with India," he said.
Having first come to India in 2005, Snesarev coached 10,000m runners Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut to a 1-2 finish in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou and steeplechaser Sudha Singh to gold. It was the first time that Indian women won medals in the 25-lap race.
Later that year, he suggested to Lalita Babar to shift to steeplechase. His sustained efforts saw Lalita become the first Indian athlete to reach a track final in the 2016 Olympic Games.
PT Usha was the first to enter the final of 400m hurdles in 1984 Olympics.
"As someone who believed in research, he showed us the way with his pioneering efforts towards improving the endurance and speed of his athletes. He insisted that athletes never touch any medicines while training with him, imposing a blanket ban on all kinds of medication, even prescribed ones," said Sumariwalla.
(With inputs from IANS)