G Lakshmanan, who gave India a gold in the 5,000 metres event in the ongoing Asian Athletic Championships in Bhubaneshwar, once practised barefoot on the highway in Pudukottai a decade or so ago, which was a sign of his fierce determination, said long-time coach S Loganathan.
Lakshmanan, a havildar in the Army, "always wanted to run and was a hard worker, which is paying dividends now", Loganathan told PTI from Pudukottai.
The 27-year-old from Sokkurani village in Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu came under the wings of Loganathan at the age of 16, after losing his father and has since been looked after by him like a son.
"As a boy, he came to me and wanted me to mould him into an athlete as his ambition was to be a runner", Loganathan, who runs a sports club said in Pudukottai town.
"The win (for Lakshmanan) in the Asian Championship is great news for me. It has been made possible because of the years of hard work work he has put in", he said of his ward's triumph on Thursday with a time of 14 minutes, 54.48 seconds.
The victory also ensured him a place in the World Championships to be held in London next month.
Incidentally, L Suriya, who is Loganathan's daughter and whom Lakshmanan calls as "sister" finished fourth in the corresponding women's race.
"It is amazing that two athletes from a small village in Pudukottai district have shown that they have the talent to do well at the highest level", Loganathan said referring to Lakshmanan and Suriya.
"The role played by his (Lakshmanan's) mother - G Jayalakshmi, a daily wage labourer, by supporting him can't be forgotten. She brought up three children after losing her husband. Though she didn't know much about athletics, she backed him."
"He had a great interest for running and braved the elements to practise without proper footwear on the road. All he wanted to do was to run", the coach added.
Loganathan also credited one P V R Sekaran, president of Tamil Nadu Ilaignar Vilayattu Mandram, in Pudukottai, for offering to help Lakshmanan.
"When he came to me and wanted to join the camp he was 16 or 17. I saw that he had the desire to succeed. No praise will be enough for Sekaran, who has been sponsoring a lot of champions and Lakshmanan is one of the beneficiaries", the Pudukottai-based coach said.
"He still works with me during the off-season and I pass on whatever tips I can", Loganathan said of Lakshmanan, who won a silver in the 10,000m event in the last Asian meet in China.
After his highs of previous Asian championship, Lakshmanan slipped under the radar but his long-time coach revived the spark in him.
"I spoke to him and made him realise that he has a lot more to achieve", he said, adding "I was optimistic of a win for him ahead of the Bhubaneshwar meet. He has got the talent to achieve more. I wish he can make it to the Olympics."
"Participating in the World Athletics championship is a big step forward for him. It is a big event, where the best from across the globe participate. Everyone has some talent or the other. It is all about how one harnesses it and Lakshmanan has overcome a lot of hardships and made a name for himself. He can get better", the coach said.
"I am proud that two international athletes have emerged from this small village which doesn't even have a proper playground", the coach said before signing off.
Meanwhile, former international high jumper Nallusamy Annavi, a coach now, lauded Lakshmanan's feat and said, "it is a fantastic performance. We have had athletes from Tamil Nadu winning gold in various athletic events, but never in the 5,000 meteres."
"To win in home conditions makes it an even bigger achievement. I have helped him at some point of time when he was younger. A lot of credit must also go to Loganathan, who coached him since he was a raw talent. I wish he can go on to bigger things", the Tiruchirapalli-based athlete, who once held the national high jump record.