No. 12: PT Usha's gold rush at the 1986 Seoul Asiad


The story till then

PT Usha made her first impression on the world stage by clinching two silver medals, in the 100 and 200 metres, at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi. Two years later, at the Los Angeles Olympics, she came within 1/100th of a second of becoming the first Indian to win an athletics medal at the Olympics, heartbreakingly finishing fourth in the 400m hurdles. A year later she set the Asian Track and Field championships in Jakarta ablaze by taking five gold medals.

The moment
By the time the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul came along, 22-year-old Usha was at the peak of her powers. She decimated the field to win a historic five medals - four golds and one silver - a record for a single athlete at any international meet. Usha's gold medals came in the 200m, 400m, 400m hurdles and the 4x400m relay, while she had to settle for silver behind Lydia de Vega of Philippines in the 100m, losing the race by a wafer-thin margin. She won the 400m and 400m hurdles by huge margins over the field and each of her gold medals came in Asian Games record-breaking timings. She became a massive star in Korea with the crowds chanting her name every time she stepped out to compete.

The reaction
"I must say I am satisfied with what I have achieved. All what I aimed for, except the Olympic medal, I achieved."
- PT Usha

Expert view
"By the time she walked away with four gold medals and a silver from the Seoul Asian Games, a grateful nation had identified itself with the long-striding girl from Kerala. From then on, every aspiring girl athlete wanted to follow in the footsteps of PT Usha. Usha's name became synonymous with Indian athletics, nay Indian sports."
- KP Mohan, veteran athletics journalist

The story since
A heel injury meant Usha was unable to accomplish her cherished dream of winning an Olympic medal in 1988. She did continue to be a force at the Asian Games though, clinching two silver medals at the 1990 Beijing Games and another one after returning from retirement at the 1994 Hiroshima Games as part of the 4x400 metres relay team. Usha now runs an athletics academy in her home state of Kerala and among her wards is Tintu Luka, who reached the 800 metre semi-finals at the London Olympics in 2012 and has also qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Recommended reading
Golden Girl by Lokesh Sharma