Born into a poor family to EVM Paithal and TV Lakshmi on June 27 in 1964, in Kerala, Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha rose to became a legendary figure in Indian sports history. She earned the sobriquet ‘Payyoli Express’ and ‘Queen of Indian Track And Field’ for her stellar record at the international stage.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest Indian athletes, she hogged the limelight throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
Usha was passionate about sprinting since her childhood but poverty and ill-health nearly shattered her dreams. But, like every dark tunnel has a ray of light at the end, Usha’s destiny took a turn for the better when she received a scholarship of Rs. 250 from the Kerala government which then had just set up a women’s sports division.
True to her humble spirit, Usha owes her success to her personal coach, Om Nambiar, who has been instrumental in her stupendous rise as a woman athlete at that time.
On her 56th birthday today, here are some interesting facts about her and her stellar achievements in sports:
1. Usha hails from a small village of Payyoli girl but the sky was the limit to what athletes of her ilk could do. Despite her ill-health during her childhood, she would participate in school Grade level running competition. As a fourth grader, she defeated her school champion who was senior to her in running and finished first.
2. She ran for National Pakistan Games at Karachi in 1980 where she won the 100m and 200m races.
3. Om Nambiar, who spotted her talents, remained her personal coach for the rest of her athletic career.
4. She was the first and the youngest Indian woman to compete at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
5. She bagged a gold medal in 400m at the 1981 Asian Track and Field Championship in Kuwait.
6. At the 1982 Asian Games held in New Delhi, Usha clinched silvers in 100m and 200m.
7. She was the first Indian woman sprinter to reach the final of an Olympic track event.
8. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Usha achieved a fourth-place in 400m race but lost the bronze medal by one-hundredth of a second.
9. She bagged the Adidas Golden Shoe award for best athlete at 1986 Seoul Olympics. She also earned five gold medals at the 1985 Asian Championships, the most for any woman athlete in a single event.
10. She is a recipient of the prestigious Arjuna and Padma Shri awards for her contribution and achievement in the field of sports.