India’s middle and long distance coach Nikolai Snesarev of Belarus was on Friday found dead in his hostel room at the National Institute of Sports here, the Athletics Federation of India said.

The 72-year-old Snesarev returned to India after a gap of two years to be at the helm till the end of September.

“He had come to NIS (from his Bengaluru base) for the Indian Grand Prix 3 held today. But when he did not turn up for the meet, the coaches checked for him in the evening and his room was found locked from inside,” AFI President Adille Sumariwalla told PTI.

“When the door was broken, he was found lying on his bed. The Sports Authority of India doctor at the NIS declared him dead and the ED (team) of the SAI has referred the body to the government hospital for post mortem.

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“We don’t know the cause of death. We will know it later after post mortem.” Snesarev was at the NIS running track in the morning with his wards but did not turn up for the meet which started at 2pm.

“He died with his boots on, having overseen his wards’ training this morning,” the AFI said in its tribute in a release issued later.

Snesarev was coaching 3000m steeplechaser Avinash Sable, who has qualified for the Olympics, and other middle and long-distance runners in their bid to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

He had quit from the position in February 2019 after Sable opted to leave him and train under Army coach Amrish Kumar.

His contract then was till the end of the Olympics, postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The veteran coach first arrived in India in 2005 to take charge of 10,000m runners Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut.

He guided the duo to a 1-2 finish in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou. It was the first time that Indian women won medals in the 25-lap race.

Sudha Singh, who won gold in the 2010 Asian Games, was also under his charge.

Later that year, he suggested Lalita Babar to shift to steeplechase.

And thanks to his sustained efforts, Babar became the first Indian athlete to reach a track event final in the Olympic Games since PT Usha in 1984 when she made it to the steeplechase final in 2016 Rio Olympics.

“We are stunned … he returned to India only a few days ago (landed in Bengaluru on March 2 and then reached Patiala next day), having agreed to train steeplechaser Avinash Sable for the Olympic Games,” Sumariwalla said.

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“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.

Sumariwalla also lauded Snesarev for imposing a “blanket ban” on all kinds of drugs.

“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,” Sumariwalla recalled.