India will complete 75 years of Independence this year. Here is a series acknowledging 75 great sporting achievements by Indian athletes. Sportstar will present one iconic sporting achievement each day, leading up to August 15, 2022.
P.T. Usha’s four gold medals at 1986 Seoul Asian Games
At the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul, India finished fifth, with five gold medals. Four of those medals were won by one woman – P.T. Usha.
“Of all my Asian Games, Seoul would remain closest to my heart,” she says. “I was at the peak then and was raring to go. I had run so many races in Seoul without taking much of a breather. I was virtually on the track while athletics was on.”
India’s P.T. Usha on her way to winning the 400m hurdles gold in record time at the Asian Games in Seoul, South Korea on September 30, 1986. – THE HINDU ARCHIVES
She had won four gold medals – in 200m, 400m, 400m hurdles and 4 x 400 m relay – and a silver in 100m. “I had lost out the 100m gold to Lydia de Vega of Philippines, with whom I had enjoyed a great rivalry; it was a poor start that let me down in that race,” Usha says. “It really was a satisfying outing for me in Seoul where I kept my country’s flag flying and set three Games records.”
Usha had almost single-handedly helped India reach fifth in the overall medals tally; she had accounted for four of the country’s five golds. When she had opened her campaign, India was standing at 14th in the medals tally.
(The article was first published in The Hindu on September 22, 2014)
Near-miss in Los Angeles
Usha, also known as the ‘Payyoli Express’, had a cruel near-miss on the biggest stage, two years before the Seoul Asian Games. The then 25-year-old Usha had missed an Olympic medal in women’s 400m hurdles by one hundredth of a second at Los Angeles, 1984.
As the final finished on August 8, she thought she had won the bronze. The announcer at the stadium first said that she had won the bronze; then he stopped, abruptly. A few agonising moments later, Usha found out that she had finished fourth in a photo finish.
“I and India, missed an Olympic medal by one hundredth of a second at Los Angeles, 1984. The disappointment at the time was crushing, but now, 25 years later, I wouldn’t hesitate even for a moment before ranking that race as the best moment of my career. That near-medal means to me as much as some of the 100-odd international medals I have won in my career that lasted nearly two decades,” Usha told Sportstar in 2009.