Will Usha be the greatest athletic coach of India?

Saba Nayakan Kolkata | Updated on September 08, 2013

She strode the Indian athletics scene like a colossus. She raised visions of an Olympic medal way back in 1984. In short, P.T. Usha was the face of Indian athletics in 1980s. Having done yeoman service to the nation as a competitor, Usha has turned her attention to produce champion athletes who can win an Olympic medal.

The mission has just begun.

Two very talented youngsters, Tintu Luka and Jessy Joseph, are under her care and both have started making a mark. Both run in 800m and Usha feels Jessy is far more talented than Tintu at her age. For the record, Tintu has made a terrific impact at the London Olympics finishing 11th. The National record for 800m women stands in her name at 1.59.17s.

Usha showed early promise in school competitions. Spotting the talent in her, coach O.M. Nambiar, then working at the school level, took Usha under his care. Usha was a sprinter. When India hosted the Asian Games in 1982, Usha won medals in both the 100 and 200m events.

There was another talented athlete from Kerala, M.D. Valsamma, who won the newly-introduced 400m hurdles gold medal at the Games. Coached by A.K. Kutty, Valsamma with the latest exploits emerged the toast of a nation which was starved off a sporting icon. As Kutty was hailed as a great coach, Nambiar, his bitter rival from early days of coaching, felt belittled and decided to do something to overtake his rival.

The talent of Usha came as a tool to Nambiar, who shifted her to 400m and helped Usha break the Asian record at the Open National at Jamshedpur. For the first time women 400m hurdles were to be introduced at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Nambiar and Usha turned their attention to the new event. When the Olympics came around, both Valsamma, then continental champion in 400m hurdles, and Usha were in the competition. As luck would have it, Valsamma lost in the first round and Usha qualified for the finals only to miss out on the bronze medal by 1/100th of a second. Thereafter, Usha went from strength to strength winning handful of medals in all the continental events, Valsamma began to fade and with her Kutty too disappeared. As the bitter rivalry came to an abrupt end, Usha blossomed into a fine athlete of international repute and emerged as a great sporting ambassador of India.

Today, Usha is trying to realise an Olympic medal as a coach. Will she be successful in her mission? Only time will tell.

Published on September 08, 2013

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