P T Usha has inspired several generations of Indian athletes ever since she made her debut at the Olympics in 1980. In an illustrious career she accumulated a wealth of Asian and national medals, and nearly got an Olympic medal in track and field events, something that still eludes the country.
She continues to contribute to the sport through her academy in Kerala. Usha School of Athletics has produced a world class middle distance runner Tintu Luka, and several Asian and national medal winners.
I met P T Usha right after the IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2013. She had just returned from Moscow after accompanying Tintu Luka as her coach. I was working on an assignment for Russia and India Report – a news project by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
In the interview she spoke at length about the state of the sport in the country and what it would take to bring medals home. She said that through her academy she aims to scout and nurture talent, and groom them in all aspects of athletics training.
She said that stronger domestic competitions have to precede international wins –
“Very few Indian athletes qualify for the Olympics. Contrast their numbers to those of Russia or USA. They’ve plenty of runners who clock very close timings. How does Tintu Luka feel pushed if the runner behind her manages to finish in more than two minutes? We need our athletes to compete more at the international level in IAAF approved events, and get the experience of playing at top-class level, so that we may never have a situation when an athlete feels nervous or under pressure.”
P T Usha stressed that there can’t be any achievement without the personal determination of the athlete. She reminisced about her own journey as an athlete when she used to train relentlessly and obsessively–
“I was mentally very strong and I was prepared for the pain. I did everything my coach told me without bothering about my aching body or a lack of decent tracks. In those days we had to go to Patiala or Delhi to practice on synthetic track. Back home, I used to run on footpaths, along train tracks, almost anywhere.”