P.T. Usha is a retired Indian woman track and field athlete.Nicknamed ‘Payyoli Express ‘,Usha was born on 27th June 1964 in a poor family in Kerala.Despite poverty and lack of nourishment,she had love for sports.
In 1976,O.M.Nambiar,an athletics coach groomed her.She won medals in inter state junior meets not only as sprinter but also in high jump and long jump.At the senior inter state meet in Bangalore in 1981,Usha set national records in 100m and 200m.At 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi,she won silver in 100m and 200m.At the Asian Championships in Kuwait in 1983,she won gold in 400m.Poor performances in 100m and 200m at 1984 World Championships in Moscow prompted her to concentrate on 400m hurdles for Olympics.At pre Olympics trials,she clocked 55.7 seconds beating American top sprinter Judi Brown.
So near yet so far
At 1984 Los Angeles Olympics,she clocked 56.81s in the heat’s and 55.54s in the semifinal.In the final,she came fourth at 55.42s missing the bronze by 0.01 seconds.During the final,one of her competitors had a false start which was said to have broken her rhythm as she got off to a slower restart.Entire country still rues the fact that she missed medal at Olympics by a whisker.In 1985 Jakarta Asian Championships,Usha won six medals-5 gold and 1 bronze.She won in 100m,200m,400m and 400m hurdles with the final two medals coming in a span of 35 minutes.Her fifth gold came in 4*400m relay and bronze in 4*100m.With that,she set a record for most gold medals won at a single event in Asian Championships.At 1986 Seoul Asian Games,she won silver in 100m with a time of 11.67s.She also won gold in 200m,400m and 4*400m all with Games new records.
At the Games,British athletics coach Jim Alford said,’Usha is a first class athlete,a tough competitor and a terrific runner to watch.She has all the potential.Given careful guidance,she can be world class.From 1983-89,she pocketed 13 golds at ATF meets.At 1988 Seol Olympics,she finished 7th in heats.In 1989 Asian Championships in New Delhi,she won 4 gold and 2 silver medals.Usha also had a good outing at 1990 Beijing Asiad with 4 silver medals in her kitty.At 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games,she signed off with a silver in 4*400m relay.
P T Usha won Arjuna award in 1983 while she bagged Padma Shri in 1985.
Life after retirement
Usha started an athletics school in 2002 at Koyilandi in Kerala to impart training to girls all over the country.Her school provides free training to athletes and also free facilities for food and shelter.Currently she supports athletes and has openly spoken about issues faced by Indian athletes at international level.
P T Usha is one of the finest woman athletes India has ever seen.She had been the inspiration for many young female aspirants.After her,now we have the likes of P V Sindhu,M C Mary Kom among few who have kept Indian tri colour flying high at international meets in various sports.India which had male dominated sporting stars before 1980s,now have more medal hopes from female contingent also at major events like Asiad,Commonwealth Games and Olympics.
By Shailesh Padhye for Sportsnasha.com