First time in 95 years of IOA a woman ‘Payolli Express’ to run the body-Puri
Jaswant Singh Puri
P.T. Usha, fondly known as ‘Payolli Express’ for her awesome speed, her full name Pilavullakandi Thekkeraparambil Usha, often called the “Queen of Indian Track and Field” was born to her parents EPM Paithal and T.V. Lakshmi in Kuthali, Kozhikode, Kerala on 27 June,1964. She is a retired Indian track and field athlete and associated with Indian Athletics since 1979. She has been credited with 4 Asian Gold Medals and 7 silver medals and many glorious achievements to her bank of sports. She was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by former President of India Ram Nath Kovind. Recently on July 10, 2022,she has added another feather to her cap as she has been officially elected as the President of Indian Olympic Association. It is a shot in the arm for the most important stake holders in sports. The legendary PT Usha is the first woman to head Indian Olympic Association in its 95 years of history.
It was O.M. Nambiar, an Athletics Coach, who noticed her in 1977 and found in her the qualities to become “a very good sprinter”. She began her coaching the same year i.e. 1977 and won a series of medals in 1978 with four gold medals in 100 metres, 200 metres, hurdles and high jump in Inter-State Meet for Junior in Kollam. She won silver in long jump and bronze in 4×100 metre relay. She set national records in Inter-State Meet Senior in 1981 by clocking 11.8 seconds in 100 metres and 24.6 seconds in 200 metre. She has glorified her sports career at 1982 New Delhi Asian Games and added to her treasure of silver medals gallery. She achieved another gold medal at the 1983 in Asian Championship in Kuwait in 400 metre stage for track and field athletes.Though she was unable to make it out for both the 100 metre and 200 metre events, the big platform could enrich her with much-needed experience and it really yielded her to the topmost position.
In Los Angeles Olympics, she could not dip her chest over the finish line costing her the medal by one-hundredth of a second. However, she continued excelling through the 1980s and 1990s and crowned herself with five gold in Asian Championship in Jakarta in 1985 in the 100 metre, 200 metre, 400 metre and the 4×400 metre relay. She set a record for most medals in a single Asian Championship. Again, in Seoul Asian Games, she had the distinction to be crowned with four medals. Overall, she won 23 medals in the Asian Track and Field Events out of which 14 were gold medals.
P.T. Usha after retirement was passionately involved in athletics as a coach and mentor for budding future athletes. Her own hard times and challenges of fewer facilities ignited a spark in her to open Usha School of Athletics in 2002 at Koyilandi, Kerela to impart training to girls from all over the country. She started this institution with an aim to get an Olympic Medal for the nation’s glory. Her guidance has borne rich fruit as Kerela’sTintu Luka and Jisna Matthew have excelled, even making it to the Olympic Stage. Jisna Matthew has been clinching medals and won a gold at the Asian Junior Athletics Championship.
She is simple but determined and faces challenges with courage. She is married to V. Srinivasa, employed as Inspector in Central Industry Security Force in 1991. She was blessed with a son named Ujjwal. Usha’s elevation gives the IOA what it desperately needed a popular face. But she must showease her independence of thought to her new role. She needs to form her vision for the IOA because she knows what it takes to win medals. Her selection along with other candidates from her panel including Senior Vice-President Ajay H. Patel, Vice-President GaganNarang, Joint Secretary KalyanChaubeyand TreasurerSaurabhYadav will have to prove that sportspersons can become adept administrators also. She was elected during the Governing Body’s polls under the supervision of Supreme Court appointed S.C. Judge L. Nageswara Rao. She quoted personally at her elevation: “I never thought I would become IOA President.” Rajya Sabha Chairman JagdeepDhankar lauded Athletics Legend on becoming the First Woman Olympian to be the President of Indian Olympic Association whose “contributions are bound to be inspiring and motivating. She needs no introduction.” Dhankar also added that PT Usha was also the first Indian Woman to enter the Olympic Finals in Los Angeles in 1984 at the age of twenty.
PT Usha is recipient of the prestigious Arjuna Award in 1983 and Padma Shri Award in 1984 and involved herself in promoting sports and sports education. She is recognised as a phenom in India athletics and came into action during the 1980s. She became active as a coach and member of Sports Administration. The Indian Olympic Association awarded her with the Adidas Golden Shoe and named her the Sports Person of the century. Her performance earned her a call-up to the Indian Contingent for Moscow Olympics in 1980 at the age of 16 years. She was the youngest sprinter to represent India which was the biggest stage for track and athletes.
PT Usha was conferred Honorary Doctorate (D. Litt.) by Kannaur University in 2000, Honorary Doctorate (D.Sc) by IIT Kanpur in 2017, Honorary Doctorate (D. Litt) by the University of Calicut in 2018.
First time in 95 years of IOA a woman ‘Payolli Express’ to run the body -Puri. PT Usha has been the finest woman athlete of India with a two decade long career. She has inspired to work, work and work till you are too tired to work. At the age of 57, she is still the most talked about track and field athlete of India. She is a pride of the nation.
Note: This article is dedicated to Smt. Alka Puri, M.A. (Hindi, B.Ed.) who was the Secretary, Ladies Club, Punjabi University, Patiala during the tenure of Vice Chancellor Dr. S.S. Johal, awarded with Padma Bhushan in 2004. Smt. Alka Puri was the wife of Dr. Ajit Singh Puri and mother of Jaswant Singh Puri.
(The views expressed are personal)