As PT Usha turns 54, 10 facts about the golden girl of Indian athletics

It’s PT Usha’s birthday today. And what better time to revisit those golden memories when the Payyoli Express did India proud with her many achievements on the track.

As PT Usha turns 54, 10 facts about the golden girl of Indian athletics

Thursday June 27, 2019,

4 min Read

PT Usha

PT Usha. Pic credit - PT Usha official Facebook page

The name PT Usha brings up many memories and a surge of pride among Indians. Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha, or PT Usha as she was fondly called, was the toast of Indian athletics throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Who can forget her spectacular performance in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where she became the first Indian to reach the finals of the 400m hurdles, but lost the bronze by one-hundredth of a second?

This was a stupendous achievement for an Indian, and a woman, at that time and many newborns were named after her in the country.

However, Usha’s life has been one of struggle. Hailing from a small village, Payyoli, in Kerala’s Kozhikode district, she had to battle constant sickness as a child, and later stereotypes as she moved to the world stage. Her coach, OM Nambiar, has been instrumental in Usha’s rise to success, and whom she credits for her tenacity on the track.

On PT Usha’s 54th birthday today, we pay tribute to the woman and athlete who has done us all proud with her numerous achievements and continues to inspire and train athletes at Usha School in Kozhikode, Kerala.

Here are 10 ways in which the athlete inspires us with her life story and mission.

  1. Usha is a girl from a small town, but with big dreams. Though troubled by illnesses as a child, she was first noticed in school when she was in Class IV and asked to run with the school champion (who was in Grade VII). She came first, and the rest - as they say - is history.
  2. Her parents, Paithel and Lakshmi, had no idea of athletics. It was her uncle who asked to keenly pursue the sport. The idea was that she could then get a job as a sports instructor. But the girl just ran and ran her way into the record books. In 1980, she participated in the National Pakistan Games at Karachi where she won the 100m and 200m. By then, OM Nambiar had spotter her talent and took on the role of a personal coach.
  3. She entered the Moscow Olympics as the youngest athlete. Though disappointment awaited her, she made up for the loss by bagging two silver medals at the Asiad held in New Delhi in 1982. Usha had arrived, and how!
  4. The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles brought both heartbreak and recognition for the athlete. After racing through the semi-finals, Usha lost the bronze by one-hundredth of a second. This followed after one of her competitors had a false start, which was said to have “broken her rhythm” as she got off the blocks a bit slower.
  5. But the near-win at the Olympics catapulted Usha into the limelight. She was dubbed Payyoli Express and became famous overnight. A road in Kochi was named after her, and so were many newborns.
  6. Despite her disappointment, Usha was raring to go. She blazed a trail at the 1986 Asian Games at Seoul where she won 200m, 400m, 400m hurdles, and the 4x400m relay. It was a complete sweep, and proved that failure was indeed the stepping stone to success. The same happened at the 1985 Track and Field Championships in Jakarta.
  7. In 1991, she married N Srinivasan, a CISF inspector, and subsequently settled down to family life. The couple has a son, Ujjwal. By the end of her career, Usha had won 101 international medals. She is now employed as an officer in the Southern Railways.
  8. Not content with just family life and a 9-5 routine, Usha decided to venture into athletics again, though in a different direction. She started the Usha School of Athletics in Kozhikode district in Kerala, an organisation dedicated to advancing promotion and practice of sports with state-of-the-art facilities.
  9. Athlete Tintu Luka is a product of the Usha School of Athletics. She is the national record holder in the 800m, the Asian Games silver medallist at Incheon 2014, and the Asian champion in Wuhan China in 2015. She also won the gold medal at the Asian Athletics Championship in 2016.
  10. She has trained 90 girls so far, who have all trained under her watchful eyes and gained from her expertise. Usha’s goal is to produce an Olympian from her school. Rumour also has it Bollywood is producing a biopic on the athlete.