Along with Milkha Singh, PT Usha can lay claim to being India’s greatest track & field athlete. And like Milkha, her finest moment involves Olymic heartbreak.
Having won her 400m hurdles semi-final in Los Angeles in 1984, hopes of a medal were high. But the athletic Gods were not in a kindly mood. In a photo finish, Usha missed out on a bronze by 1/100th of a second. She would never get so close again.
In an interview with The Hindu in 2012, Usha said it was the one moment of her life she wished she could change.
“If life could come back, if I could roll back the years, I would like to relive my most cherished moment, the Los Angeles Olympics. I would like to compete with the same fellow runners, but this time finishing at the podium.”
There was plenty of success at the Asian level though. At the Asian Games in 1986, Usha was the brightest star on the continent. The Payolli Express won four gold medals and a silver in the track and field events, including a 1-2 in the 400m with Shiny Abraham. In total, she won four golds and six silvers over a span of four Asian Games between 1982 and 1994.
She had even more success at the Asian Athletic Championships, winning a total of 22 medals, including 14 gold. In all, she won 101 medals in international competition, a total no other Indian athlete comes close to matching.
Born in 1964, Usha was another product from the fertile athletic soils of Kerala. Incredibly, when she retired at the age of 36, she was still the No. 1 ranked athlete in India.
“I must say I am satisfied with what I have achieved," she told Rediff when she hung up her studs. “All what I aimed for, except the Olympic medal, I achieved.”
As someone who succeeded purely because of her own hard work and dedication, Usha headed into retirement determined to produce Olympic medal-winning runners for India and set up her eponynous school of athletics in Koyilandy, near Kozhikode, which she currently runs.
“I am convinced that what we lack in India is not talent, but the basic, modern and scientific facilities. If we train our young Indian sports talents, nothing -- even many Olympic medals -- is unachievable.
“Everyone thinks that bagging an Olympic medal is a difficult task. It is not.”
Asian Games medals
Gold: 1986 Seoul - 200 metres
Gold: 1986 Seoul - 400 metres
Gold: 1986 Seoul - 400 metres hurdles
Gold: 1986 Seoul - 4x400 metres relay
Silver: 1982 New Delhi- 100 metres
Silver: 1982 New Delh i- 200 metres
Silver: 1986 Seoul - 100 metres
Silver: 1990 Beijing - 400 metres
Silver: 1990 Beijing - 4x100 metres relay
Silver: 1994 Hiroshima- 4x400 metres relay
Updated Date: Sep 15, 2014 12:32:20 IST