At 22, she won the Gold Medal in 1,500m at the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneshwar with a record of 4.17.92 seconds .
Sealing her place in the World Championships, PU Chitra earned the title of ‘Queen of Asia in the mile.’
A daughter of agricultural labourers, Unnikrishan & Vasantha Kumari, the track and field athlete from Mundur in Kerala’s Palakkad District fought all odds to win many state, national and international school meet gold medals, in middle and long-distance track events.
She garnered immense adulation and support on social media when despite her spectacular win at Bhubaneswar, she wasn’t included in India’s squad for the London World Championship.
The hashtag #IsupportChitra went viral on Facebook, with leading personalities rooting for the metric mile runner, including Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
If you support Chitra, here are top 10 things to know about the ‘Queen of Asia in the mile’:
- Chitra was born on June 9, 1995, at Mundur in Kerala’s Palakkad District and is the third of four children of Unnikrishnan & Vasantha Kumari, labourers who do menial jobs to make ends meet.
- An undergraduate student, she completed her schooling from Mundur Higher Secondary School in Palakkad.
- She was a day-boarder at the school and received Rs 25 per day from the Kerala Sports Council and Rs 600 a month from the Sports Authority of India under a scheme for young athletes, which helped in meeting her basic training needs.
- In 2011, she won the Gold medal in the 1,500m, 3,000m, 5,000m race and a Bronze in 3km cross country in 56th Indian National School Games, Pune, Maharashtra
- The year 2012 marked her gold win in 1,500m, 3,000m and 5,000m race in the 56th Kerala State School Games, Thiruvananthapuram.
- In 2013, she won the gold yet again in the 1,500m, 3,000m and 5,000m race at the 57th Kerala State School Games, Ernakulam.
- In 2013, she also won gold in the 1,500m, 3,000m, 5,000m race and 3km cross country in the 58th Indian National School Games, Etawah,UP
- In 2013, she won gold in the 3,000m race in the first-ever Asian school athletic meet and reached the finish line in 10:05:22.
- In 2016, she won gold medals in the 1,500m, 3,000m, 5,000m race and 3km cross country in the 59th Indian National School Games, Ranchi, Orissa
- She was awarded Tata Nano cars by the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council and the Government of Kerala for her remarkable achievements in the school meets.
There were times when Chitra’s parents failed to find any work and the family of six survived on leftovers. Some nights, she went to bed on an empty stomach, but that did not deter her from waking up at 5.45 am the next day for the physical education class at her government school.
Her coach Sijin N S in an interview with the Indian Express said Chitra always dreamt of representing the country abroad. “She opted for athletics training in school. I knew that she was not from a well-to-do family but despite the difficulties, she was always committed to training. She had the kind of drive I had not seen in other athletes her age.”
“Our biggest joy is seeing our daughter represent the country and win medals. Sometimes I wonder if we were rich and had clout, would Chitra have been treated this way?” Unnikrishnan told the publication.