PT Usha was the poster girl of the Indian track and field sphere for two decades. She brought happiness to India in the eighties, when the country was trying to find its feet in the world of sport. The legendary athlete led to a sprint revolution of sorts among that generation, and at one point, every Indian kid wanted to run like Usha.
The queen of Indian track and field is a woman of many firsts. She was the first woman to reach the final of an Olympic event — she lost the bronze medal in the 400m hurdles by a whisker in the Los Angeles Games in 1984 — besides holding a record of five gold medals and a bronze in the Asian Championships in Jakarta in 1985; a feat still untouched.
It is now no coincidence that she has become the first woman president of the Indian Olympic Association in its 95-year-long history. She is also the first former international athlete, with 11 Asian Games medals, including four golds at Seoul in 1986, to hold the post.
The Indian courts have been batting for former athletes in sports administrations, not full-time politicians, to eradicate corruption and vested interests. The IOA will likely flaunt a new look with more sportspersons in the executive body.
The Strongest Candidate
Usha's credentials and resume are perhaps the strongest among all office-bearers in the history of the association that sailed through rough waters post the Commonwealth Games scam in 2010. The arrest of Suresh Kalmadi left a bad taste in the mouth. In 2012, the International Olympic Committee even suspended the IOA for corruption and government interference.
The IOC managed to revoke the ban when Narayana Ramachandran was elected president in February 2014. He ran the body till 2017 before Narinder Batra threw his hat in the ring.
After his resignation in July 2022, Adille Sumariwalla, the president of the Athletics Federation of India, served as the interim boss. The former sprinter who represented India at the 1980 Moscow Games was the only sportsperson who came close to running the IOA amid the pool of politicians. First-class cricketer Raja Bhalindra Singh was the last sportsman to run the association in the early eighties.
Usha's achievements are in a league of their own. She not only inspired youngsters in the country with her medal count but had quite a fan base across the border in Pakistan too. In 1980, when she won four gold medals at the Pakistan Open National Meet in Karachi, the fans from the galleries chanted her name in chorus.
Overall, Usha won 23 medals in the Asian track and field events from the 1980s; 14 were gold. And she was always a crowd favourite. As an IOA president, one can trust the Payyoli Express to stop at only the crucial stations to pick up eligible athletes to the ultimate destination - the Olympic podium.
What Can Change Under PT Usha
One of Usha's main targets could be to work more on setting a framework to scout talent from the grassroots. The 58-year-old has been vocal about the lack of proper screening of athletes. There could be systematic and science-based training for the selected athletes from the junior level since she would understand the pulse of a young athlete, having trained many at her academy over the past decade.
Her sports academy, Usha School of Athletics in Balussery, has been attracting talent from all over India. At least 240 girls enrolled for the selection trials in April 2022.
She started the academy to manufacture athletes who could win medals for India at the Olympics and to find that sprinter who would win that medal in track and field that Usha missed by one-hundredth of a second in Los Angeles. Her fire in the belly and hunger to succeed, albeit as an administrator, could rub off on the young prospects from India.
Usha has been in the thick of administrative activities in the school. The experience will be beneficial as she takes guard on December 10.
Sports-Based Decisions in IOA
The athletes will feel better interacting with a boss with so much experience in the Olympic, Asian and Commonwealth fold.
Usha is one of those athletes who did not take a break after retirement. Her blueprint for the academy was ready when she hung up her boots in 2000. It should not be surprising if it comes to light that Usha already designed a plan for the Indian athletes who are eyeing the 2024 Games.
She is faster than our thoughts.