PT Usha, The Payyoli Express and India’s Golden Girl!

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PT Usha

The ‘Payyoli Express’ has arrived! By the name of it, you might think of a superfast train. But nothing less than that, the ‘Payyoli Express’ is India’s first Sports Icon, PT Usha. Every child from the 80s knows the inspirational athlete who ruled the tracks for almost two decades. P.T. Usha became the ‘Queen of track and field’ when she won five medals in the 1986 Asian Games. At a time when rarely any sport got the limelight, she built her legacy and became a motivation for generations of athletes to come. In this blog, we will talk about her life achievements and journey so far. Read on to know more.

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Credits :

Early Life and Childhood

Born on 27 June 1964 in the town of Payyoli in Kozhikode in Kerala, Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha did not come from a privileged family. She grew up facing many health issues and poverty. She was born to T.V. Lakshmi and E.P.M. Paithal. She had an early aptitude in sports and participated in many competitions. The Kerala government also awarded her with a scholarship of Rs 250 to support her athletic talents. She went to a special sports school at Kannur for education and training. In 1991, she married V. Srinivasan, an Inspector with Central Industrial Security Force. They had a son Vignesh Srinivasan who is in the field of sports medicine.  

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PT Usha
Credit: Sportstar

Om Nabiar, an athletics coach, first noticed PT Usha at a sports prize distribution in 1976. Following which he made a comment in an interview with Rediff, stating, ”What impressed me at first sight about Usha was her lean shape and fast walking style. I knew she could become a very good sprinter.”

He began training her from that year onwards and this marked the beginning of her journey. 

  • She won six medals at the interstate meet for juniors in Kollam,1978. 
  • In the same year, she also won 14 medals at the Kerala State College Meet. 
  • Then she went on to win multiple medals at the 1979 National Games and 1980 inter-state meet. 
  • In the 1982 New Delhi Asian Games, she won silver medals and in the 1983 Open National Championship, she broke the national record. 
  • In the same year, she won a gold medal at the Asian Championships in Kuwait City.

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Birth of a Legend

PT Usha made her Summer Games debut at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, thus becoming India’s youngest Olympian at 16, a record that still stands unbeatable. Although her debut wasn’t quite successful but made it evident that success would eventually come. In the following years, at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi, 18-year-old Usha won two silver medals, thus making a place for herself. Indians celebrated the birth of a new hero – PT Usha and with her first major international medals under her belt, the Payyoli Express was on course.

Courtesy: Milaap

1989 Asian Championships

In the 1988 Seoul Olympics she could not proceed to the finals because of a heel injury. This led to questions being raised whether India’s track and field queen still had the speed. In the 1989 Asian Athletics Championships she wanted to prove herself and also mentioned ,“I will retire after the 1989 Asian Track and Field meet in New Delhi with some medals to silence my critics”

However, Usha later reversed her decision and went on to win several more accolades in the years to follow. These include an elusive 4x100m gold at the 1998 Asian Championships aged 34. But due to her injuries, she never reached the heights like she did in the 1980s.

PT Usha Today

After winning 13 gold medals from 1983-1989, PT Usha won 4 gold medals in the 10th Asian Games held at Seoul in 1986 and five gold medals at the 6th Asian Track and Field Championship in Jakarta in 1985. Currently, she is heading the Indian Talent Organisation which is responsible for conducting the National Level Indian Talent Olympiad examinations in schools across India. She also runs a school of athletics and Koyilandi near Kozhikode, Kerala, where girls in the age group of 10-12 are recruited and trained. One of her students, Tintu Lukka, qualified at the London Olympics in 2012  for the women’s semi-final 800m event.

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Awards and Honors

PT Usha has been awarded multiple honours for her contribution in the field of sports. Some of the awards and honors have been listed below :

  • Padma Shri in 1985
  • Honorary Doctorate conferred by Kanpur University in 2000
  • Honorary Doctorate conferred by IIT Kanpur in 2017
  • Honorary Doctorate conferred by University of Calicut in 2019
  • IAAF Veteran Pin in 2019

So, this was all about PT Usha’s life journey. We hope you found it to be inspiring. For more such stories, stay connected with Leverage Edu!

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