1999, more than two decades after she first tasted fame,
P.T. Usha still runs for India. It is not that no other
star has emerged, but that she and Indian athletics
have remained so essentially intertwined.
like Milkha Singh she narrowly missed an Olympic medal.
Much like Milkha again she made a substantive contribution
to India's athletic movement.
1979, when she made a debut, athletics was very much
a male preserve and track-suited women a rarity. But
the 1982 Asian Games in Delhi, and Usha's later progress
led to a resurgence of women's sport.
loner, Usha was hardly aware of it. She trained systematically,
obsessed about her success. By 1984 she was a vastly
improved athlete, but missed a bronze at the Los Angeles
Olympics by 1/100th of a second. Still, she smiled,
saying, "I am very happy to have set an Asian best (55.42)
for the event."
Her greatness lay in her ability to cover up any sense
of failure. In 1986 she totally dominated the Asian
Games at Seoul, winning the 200 m (23.44 secs), 400
m (52.16 secs), 400 m hurdles (56.06 secs), and 4 x
400 m relay. It established her as the nation's leading
athlete and for the next five years India relied heavily
Marriage in 1991 was followed by retirement. But encouraged
by her husband she returned in 1994. The new Usha was
wiser, and though not all was heroic there were moments
of history too. In 1998, with 30 Asian medals behind
her, she went to the Asian Track and Field championships
in Japan as a veteran. But bronze medals in 200 and
400 m, and two relay medals proved she was not out of
breath yet. A month later she set a new national mark
for the 200 m, bettering her 1989 mark. Critics may
have scoffed at her but never at her dedication.
will be remembered for being a trendsetter. Hailing
from a modest middle- class background, her success
led to a chain reaction. Young girls constrained by
custom to stay at home, have dared to run. It is a revolution
that has but one catalyst. Usha.
a mathematics lecturer at St Stephen's College, Delhi.
He ran the marathon in the 1960 Rome Olympics.
national badminton champion, won the All-England Championship
in 1980 and the World Cup in 1981.
FERREIRA: Won the World Amateur Billiards Championship
in 1977, 1981, 1983. He held 17 world records.
SETHI: Won World Amateur Billiards Championship
in 1985 and 1987, the Pro World in 1992, 1993 and 1998.
KRISHNAN: Only Indian to make Wimbledon semis
in 1960-61. In the world Top 5, he won 47 titles.