There have been several Indians in track-and-field events who have competed at the Olympics and some have even come close to winning a medal but none more so than PT Usha.
The Indian runner finished fourth in the 400m hurdles at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, missing out on bronze by a mere 1/100th of a second. It would have been a historic feat had she done so - and at a mere 20-years old.
However, PT Usha had proved her quality and an incredible example of her ability came during the 1985 Asian Athletics Championships in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Indian runner ended up with five gold medals and a bronze, all won within a span of five days.
People often talk about these remarkable feats but PT Usha, whose birthday is on Saturday, does not agree with the fact that that is what defines her.
“I didn’t just run one event at one championship and win a medal. It was not a flash in the pan. Right through the ‘80s and for over a decade, I won gold medals for India,” she said in an interview with The Indian Express.
“I peaked from 1984 onwards. To win gold after gold and medal after medal at the Asian Games, the Asian Championships and at Grand Prix events in Europe was no mean feat.
“It was a wonderful period for Indian athletics and, if I may say so, I was to a large extent responsible for track and field being as popular as cricket in India back then. Jakarta was the start of the golden period.”
The feat mesmerized the city so much that when someone mentions PT Usha’s name in Jakarta even today, they are handed discounts by the local shopkeepers, the Indian runner revealed while narrating the story of a friend who had recently visited Indonesia.
How training in London helped
PT Usha was a pioneer in more ways than one. While she steadily became synonymous with running in India, what also aided her was the fact that she decided to train in Europe, London to be specific.
The Indian runner decided to train at the Crystal Palace Sports Training Centre some months before the Asian Athletics Championships and flew there along with coach OM Nambiar.
It was a new experience and fortunately, she enjoyed the change in weather and also grew fond of the English breakfast.
“I loved the bacon there. It was so juicy and tasty that I looked forward to breakfast. Eggs, toast, bacon and the salads, I hogged that,” she admitted.
“For dinner, I used to find an Indian restaurant and have tandoori chicken and rice. When I finished my stint in Crystal Palace, my haemoglobin levels were much higher compared to what it was before I left India.”
The London base made her travel to European events much simpler and gave her the confidence to achieve what she did at Jakarta in that five-day period.
By the time she retired, PT Usha had become a true Indian running legend that has inspired many a woman to take up athletics and the talents of Tintu Lukka and Dutee Chand would not have emerged had it not been for her efforts all those years ago.