Veteran athletics coach and Dronacharya awardee Joginder Singh Saini, aged 90, who groomed some of India’s finest track and field stars, died in Patiala on Sunday due to age-related problems.

Saini, who remained the chief national athletics coach for many years from 1970-’90, was not keeping well for the past few days.

“I am truly sad to hear of the passing away of our colleague, my chief coach and mentor, JS Saini,” Athletics Federation of India President Adille Sumariwalla said.

“He loved athletics and contributed to AFI till his last day. He was my friend, philosopher and guide and helped me immensely in my role as AFI President with his sound advice,” Sumariwalla said in his condolence message.

Born on January 1, 1930 in Hoshiarpur district in Punjab, Saini was a science graduate and became an athletics coach in 1954 after completing a diploma in physical education and a course in coaching at the NIS Patiala.

He became the chief coach of the then Amateur Athletics Federation of India in 1970.

Saini received the Dronacharya Award in 1997 for his contribution to Indian athletics. He was the chief coach of the Indian athletics team which won 18 medals, including eight golds, at the 1978 Asian Games.

‘Saini Saab’, as he was fondly called by the Indian athletics fraternity, was involved with coaching until 2004 and since then he became an adviser of AFI.

He competed in hurdles in his young days and some of the India’s finest athletes were trained by him at the NIS and national camps.

Saini was the one who encouraged Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, who won an Asian Games gold medal in 1962, to take up decathlon. Legendary marathon runner Shivnath Singh was among the other illustrious athletes whom he coached.

“The Indian athletics fraternity at large will miss Saini. It is a great void, not easy to fill. It is a great loss to the entire sporting fraternity of India. My deepest condolences to his family and prayers for his soul to rest in eternal peace,” Sumariwalla said.

(with PTI inputs)