The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics propelled PT Usha onto the high road to success. The 20-year-old set the bar impossibly high, winning the 400m hurdles heats and mesmerizing the watching audience with her athletic prowess and sunny temperament.
It raised hopes of a podium finish for a nation starved of medals at the Olympics. Amid high expectations, Usha faltered in the final race and missed the bronze by 1/100th of a second.
“I received a message from Indira Gandhi Ji which said, ‘Usha, my daughter, you did very well for the country. Don’t worry, try harder next time, we are all with you.’ That gesture really lifted me,” PT Usha stated in an interview after missing out on the Olympic medal.
Her efforts, forged by a relentless pursuit of excellence, helped female athletes set newer standards in the nation's sporting landscape. It is one of the many examples of Usha's greatness in her two decades of dominance.
PT Usha at the Olympics
Struggling to find quality exposure, PT Usha was left to draw on her experiences from local and national meets. Her first international exposure came at the 1980 Pakistan Open National Meet in Karachi, where she clinched four golds.
The nation still remembers her as the youngest Indian sprinter to compete in an Olympic event at the tender age of 16. She finished a lowly fifth in the 100m final race at the 1980 Games in what was her maiden Olympics. With no formal exposure or guidance, Usha reached a new milestone in her athletic career.
Her incomparable influence on the track had by then already cemented her as one of the finest track and field athletes of her generation. Following her successful streak across two events at the 1982 Asian Games, Usha was now keen to assert her dominance on the Olympic stage once more.
Usha's initial spurt of power through the start line placed her well ahead of the crop in the 400m hurdles final. But a false start by one of her competitors meant the race had to be restarted. Unfortunately, Usha seemed to have lost her edge by the time the race resumed and finished the first hurdle in 6.9s.
Firing off the blocks in the final hurdle, Usha tried her best to keep her pace up and looked almost certain of a podium finish. She, however, finished 0.1s slower than Romania's Cristeana Cojocaru, who edged ahead to take the bronze medal in 55.41s.
"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," PT Usha was quoted as saying in an interview to the Equator Line magazine.
Such has been her record at major athletic events that many have dubbed her invincible. In a career that has spanned twenty long years at the elite level, PT Usha has amassed over 100 national and international medals, and over 10 gold medals at the Asian Championships.
As the next breed of female athletes like Hima Das and Dutee Chand begin to raise the bar on the track, there will only ever be one PT Usha. She will remain as the greatest Indian female athlete ever.