One of the most iconic athletes that the country has ever produced, Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha, or more popularly known as PT Usha, turns 53 today.
Hailing from the town of Payyoli in Kozhikode, Usha is also known by her nickname Payyoli Express and is often called the Queen of Indian track and field.
Bringing India to the International sports radar for her exceptional sprinting skills in the early 80s and 90s, Usha has over 100 international medals to her credit.
A symbol of perseverance, here are some of the illustrious highlights of the inspiring lady that makes her the ‘Golden Girl’ of India:
1. Starting in 1976, Usha was one among 40 athletes part of the newly launched state government sports division for women in Kannur where she started practising under the guidance of coach O.M Nambiar.
2. She set a national record at the state athletic meet at Kottayam in 1977 and garnered limelight as a junior athlete in the National inter-state meet at Kollam, 1978.
3. She got national recognition during the 1979 National School Games, where she won the individual championship.
4. The youngest Indian sprinter to enter the Olympic foray at the time, Usha was 16 when she made her debut at the 1980 Moscow Games. Though she was eliminated at the heats, it was a landmark moment nevertheless.
5. The same year, she made a mark by winning 4 gold medals in the 1980 Pakistan Open National Meet at Karachi.
6. In 1982 she won a gold medal in 200m race and bronze medal in 100m race in the world junior invitation meet (currently called World Junior Athletics Championships) at Seoul.
7. As a national appreciation towards her exemplary performance, she was awarded the coveted Arjuna Award in 1983, which was soon followed by the Padma Shri in 1985.
8. Usha’s hour of fame came during the 1984 leg of Olympics in Los Angeles, where she won the 400m hurdles heats. At the final, however, she came fourth, falling behind the eventual bronze medalist by 1/100th of a second, setting an Asian record of at 55.42 seconds, which still stands today as the Indian National Record.
9. Following this, she continued to shine at various international meets and Asian Games up until the early 90s.
10. After her marriage to V. Srinivasan, a Central Industrial Security Force inspector, and birth of their son Ujjwal, she took a brief break, only to return to athletics.
11. Silencing the critics, she astonished the country by winning 2 bronze medals at the 1998 Asian Track Field meet in Japan and set a new national record for the 200m race, surpassing on her own previous record.
12. Usha was named sportsperson of the century and the sports woman of the millennium by the Indian Olympic Association, and continues to have the honour of being the Indian with the most international track and field medals.
13. Following retirement in 2000, she opened the Usha School of Athletics, where she dedicates all her time towards grooming young sporting talents.
Here’s wishing the Golden Girl, who continues to inspire not just the sporting fraternity but every single one of us, an amazing year ahead.