‘I think that I was able to win all the medals due to the grace of God’

India might have failed to excel in accordance with the expectations of its fans through the 19 editions of the Asian athletics championships held so far.

But still, the country has every reason to be proud of the achievements of its pride and joy P.T. Usha, who on record remains the most decorated athlete in the 40-year history of the championships.

Through her illustrious championship career between 1983 and 1998, Usha won an astonishing 23 medals — 14 gold, six silver and three bronze medals and what more a world record five golds and one bronze at one single championship at the 1985 meet in Jakarta.

Usha who will be arriving in the city later this week for the 20th AAC commencing on Wednesday, puts all this down to the grace of Lord Krishna at Guruvayur.

Speaking to The Hindu on Monday from her home town of Payyoli, the legend said: “Of course, I did my part well by training hard. But I think that I was able to win all these medals due to the grace of God, who has been benevolent to me throughout my life.”

On her impressive medal count — a gold and a silver in 1983 (Kuwait), five gold medals and a bronze in 1985 (Jakarta), three gold and two silver medals in 1987 (Singapore), four gold and two silver medals in 1989 (New Delhi) and a gold, a silver and two bronze medals in 1998 (Fukuoka) — Usha turned nostalgic.

“At least then, the whole country was sure that I would return with a handful of medals from the Asian championships and as I look back there are many moments which still remain etched fresh in my mind,” Usha said.

Memorable incidents

One such incident, which Usha recalled, occurred in 1983 at Kuwait. “I was making my debut in the Asian championships and was to take part in both the 200m and 400m. It so happened that the finals of these two events were scheduled within just 45 minutes of each other. This put me and my coach O.M. Nambiar into a dilemma. But then, we decided to go ahead and compete in both the events.

“In the 200m, I was beaten to the second place and though there was little time left for me to recover, I still won the 400m pushing Japan’s favourite Junko Yoshida to the silver. It was my first international outing over the distance and I was the winner against all odds.

“It gave me great satisfaction and I immediately decided to gift the medal to Lord Krishna at Guruvayur which I did on my return home.

“But more than that, what remains in my mind is the gift I received from a lady hailing from Bangalore who had watched both my races that day. As I returned to the gallery, she rushed towards me, took out the chain with a pendant made of solid gold that she was wearing and put it around my neck. It is a gift which I still preserve.”

Usha has also fond memories of the 1985 meet where she won over her arch rival Lydia de Vega while winning the 100m gold and pushing the Filipino to the third spot. “That win is something which I cherish a lot even today.”

Usha, on the same vein, does remember the 1989 meet too. “After the injury that I sustained during the run up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, I was virtually written off by my critics.

“But as I found form and my winning streak again in New Delhi, the crowds were firmly behind me.”