P.T. Usha Biography
We are all running: running in the rat race to accomplish a good societal life. We get up and run to
college or office and run back home to finish the chores. Life has become a race. How beautiful it
would have been to run every day but to chase our dreams?
Well, there are some brave who dare to work for their dreams and passions. Today we will talk
about one such person who ran every day to follow her passion for “running”. Don’t get bewildered.
We are talking about none other than P.T. Usha (Pilavullakandi Thekkeparampil Usha), one of India’s
most famous track and field athletes.
Now retired, she was popularly known as “Payolli Express” who was a queen of Indian track and field
for nearly won decades. Usha has made a world record for the most gold medals won by a woman in the 100, 200, and 400 meters, 400m hurdles, and 4x400m relay in 1985 at Jakarta, Indonesia.
She inspired Indian women to take up sports as a career. It was a remarkable step because of sports
are usually not seen as a career choice by a lot and women taking it up in times when India was
going through a wave of women empowerment.
Her steps were a message loud and clear for men and women to follow their dreams without any
The journey was not an easy one but she relentlessly followed or to say ran for her dreams.
She was born on 27 June 1964 in a small village Payyoli in Kerala. She was not born in a privileged
family and had to face hurdles while growing up. But when the dreams are strong, nothing cans top
a person from success.
Her passion helped her earn the title of “Payyoli Express” and “Golden Girl”.
The 54-year-old PT Usha married V. Srinivasan, an inspector with the Central Industrial Security
Force in 1991 and the couple is blessed with a boy.
Beginning of the career
She was 12 when the Kerala State Government in 1976 opened a sports school for women and Usha
represented her district in it with a Rs 250 scholarship.
Athletics coach OM Nambiar realised her talent in the National School Games Award Ceremony and
decided to be her mentor and the rest is history.
Mr Nambiar, one in an interview had said: “What impressed me at first sight about Usha was her
lean shape and fast walking style. I knew she could become a very good sprinter.”
The coaching followed quick results and she won five medals at the inter-state meet for juniors in
1978 in Kollam and went on to win four gold medals in 100 m, 200 m, 60 m hurdles and high jump,
silver in long jump and bronze in 4 x 100 m relay.
She won multiple awards at the 1979 National Games ad 1980 National inter-state meet.
PT Usha made her debut in the 1980 Moscow Olympics at the age of sixteen. Her performance in the
Olympics was not up to the mark but she did not lose heart and went on to make records.
She became the first Indian Sports Woman to enter an Olympic final.
Usha clocked 11.8 seconds in the 100m and 24.6 seconds in the 200m at the senior inter-state meet
in 1981 in Bangalore and ended up setting national records.
She won silver medals, clocking 11.95 seconds in the 100m and 25.32 seconds in the 200m at the
1982 New Delhi Asian Games.
Her performance at the 1983 Open National Championships in Jamshedpur was another
breakthrough as she broke the 200m national record by clocking 23.9 seconds and also set a new
national record in 400m with 53.6 seconds. She then went on to win gold in the Asian
Championships in Kuwait City in the same year.
Her life-changing time can be attributed to her entry in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics as she
entered the competition with a portfolio of good performances at the year's New Delhi inter-state meet and Mumbai Open National Championships.
She beat Asian Champion M.D. Valsamma at the Olympics trials in Delhi to qualify for the Games.
She also beat American top sprinter Judi Brown at pre-Olympic trials by clocking 55.7 seconds.
She entered the finals by setting a new Commonwealth record by clocking 56.81 seconds in the
heats and 55.54 seconds in the semi-final.
However, at the finals, she came fourth falling behind the eventual bronze medallist by just 1/100 th
of a second.
Usha went on to win six medals in the 1985 Jakarta Asian Championships. In her first two wins, she
equalled Taiwan’s Chi Cheng and bettered herself a week later in 400m at the 1985 Canberra World
Cup by clocking 51.61 seconds.
She won silver in the 100 metres in 11.67 seconds falling behind Lydia de Vega.
British athletics coach Jim Alford praised her saying: “Usha is a first class athlete, a tough competitor
and a terrific runner to watch. She has all the potential. Given careful guidance, she can be world
Usha trained for a month in London under Alford before taking to the 1987 Singapore Asian
Championships. She won the silver in the 100m in the games with a difference of 0.31 seconds.
She then decided to drop out of the 200-metre race because the 400 m hurdles final was scheduled
in 70 minutes from the former.
Her decision turned out to be right as she won gold in 400m hurdles clocking 56.48 seconds and gold in 400m with timing of 52.31 seconds.
She also won silver in 4 x 100 m relay and gold in 4 x 400 m relay.
She went on to win four gold medals and one silver in the track and field events in the 10th Asian
Games in 1986 held at Seoul. She won five gold medals at the 6th Asian Track and Field
Championship in 1985 in Jakarta. Her medals at the same meet are a record for a single athlete in a
single international meet.
PT Usha’s primary source of income is that of an athlete. Her estimated net worth as of 2019 is
estimated at $100K-1M.
Awards & Honours
India’s Golden Girl has won several national and international awards in her illustrious career as a
sportsperson. She has won over 101 national and international and some of them are listed below:
- Recipient of Arjuna Award, 1984.
- Padma Shri in 1984.
- Greatest women athlete, in 1985 Jakarta Asian Athletic Meet.
- Best Athlete in Asia Award in 1984,1985,1986,1987, and 1989.
- Marshal Tito award for the best railway sportsperson in 1984,1985, 1989 and 1990
- 1986 Seoul Asian Games, won the Adidas Golden Shoe Award for the best athlete
- Thirty International Awards, for her excellence in Athletics.
- Kerala Sports Journalists Award for the year 1999.
- World Trophy for best Athlete 1985, 1986
- She joined running when she was in the 7th class and defeated the district champion.
- It is believed she set her pace keeping male athletes as her benchmark but they were afraid to do
so for them.
- Another belief is that a legendary cricketer once refused to race against the “sprint queen” for fear
- PT Usha’s biggest impact for India was seen in the Asian Games when India was at number 14
before she came. She went on to win four golds bringing India to number 4.
- Getting into her school is not everyone’s cup of tea. One needs to prove their mettle and
dedication. She asks children to come to her school, which is in the interiors of Calicut district, for
selection. Only the passionate runners would make the trip.
- She has still not forgotten her defeat in the 1984 Olympics by 1/100th of a second. She said: “If I
had thrust my torso ahead, I would have won the silver. If I had at least bent my head, I would have
won the bronze.”
- When a film producer wanted to make a movie on her she asked him to wait with a statement: “I
want to bring an Olympic athletics medal to India, through my students. Only then will my story be complete.”
Sprint queen PT Usha was in a controversy regarding athlete PU Chithra exclusion from the World Athletic Meet.
Usha reportedly had made a statement that the deterioration of values, character assassination, and
baseless reports had prompted her decision.
“The unbearable harassment by the visual media is beyond the capacity to bear for the woman in me, who becomes happy or sad easily over small things. I want to lead a peaceful life with my family. Hence I won’t cooperate with the visual media from today on wards protesting against the
unbearable harassment. I am helpless on the issue. Please pardon me," she said.
The backdrop of her statements was based on media reports according to which she had a role in
Chithra not finding a place in the Indian team despite bagging gold at the Asian Athletics
Championship held in Bhubaneshwar in July.
Chithra had bagged gold in the 1500-metre event which ensured her a direct qualification for the
World Athletic Championships in London.
Media reports suggested that Usha was a part of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) selection
committee and played a part in keeping Chithra out from the final list.
It is being insinuated that Usha & alleged indifferent attitude towards Chithra was because the latter was not from Usha School of Athletics.
PT Usha regrets not getting a medal in the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984 but what could have been
In an interview, she once said that she was forced to eat just rice porridge with pickle at the Games
Village and the food without proper nutrition had cost the medal.
Usha laments the lack of facilities at the time and has always raised her voice for better facilities for
the country’s sports persons.
In an interview with the Equator Line Magazine, she is quoted: “We would jealously look at the
athletes from other countries enjoying fabulous amenities; they had the latest equipment at their
disposal. We wondered if we too would one day have access to such facilities.”
Recalling the race of 1984, she always says: “It was a perfect start for me. As planned, I tried to cross
the first hurdles of 45 metres in 6.2 secs and kept the rhythm and maintained that level of speed and endurance… But in the last 35 metres, I couldn’t sustain my energy at a consistent level.”
She has added that she used to eat some sliced fruit along with rice porridge and pickle. She claims
to be unaccustomed to baked potatoes or half-boiled chicken with soya sauce and some other
typical American food.
“No one had told us that in LA we would get only American food. I had no choice but to eat rice
porridge without any nutrition supplement, and that definitely affected my performance in the last
35 metres of my event since I couldn’t sustain the energy level, she says.
The Indian star athlete retired in 2000 after making her country proud of her achievements. She
went on to offer her services as an officer in Southern Railways and is running an athletics school
named Usha School of Athletics at Koyilandi near Kozhikode, Kerala. The school trains girls in the age
group of around 10 to 12.
PT Usha’s training ability came to the forefront when one of her students Tintu Lukka qualified for
the women’s semi-final in the 800m event at the 2012 London Olympics.
As they say, a real woman is the one who gives wings to other women.
This Golden Queen as she is popularly called has won hearts with her achievements and dedication
to triumph in life’s every race. She has overcome life’s challenges with grit and dedication be it
poverty or health issues.
To all men and women out there, this lady’s achievements in the face of hardships and obstacles
should be an inspiration enough to own up your dreams and at least for once in life to try fulfilling