PT USHA: ONE-HUNDREDTH OF A SECOND THAT STILL HAUNTS THE NATION
Till 1984, India had never won an athletics medal at the Olympics. In 1984, the nation pinned their hopes on one girl from Kerala. Her name was P T Usha. Usha was in great form. After Moscow, this was her second Olympics. Coached by O M Nambiar, she was on the rise.
Usha qualified easily at the heat of 4X400 meter hurdles. In the semi-finals, with a time of 56.81 seconds, she finished second. She progressed to the finals with ease.
On the 8th of August 1984, the whole nation was praying for that elusive medal.
In front of a packed stadium, Usha started her race from lane number five. In lane number 1 and 2 were Ann Skoglund (Sweden) and Cristina Cojocaru (Romania). Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco was in the 3rd lane. Sandra Farmer of Jamaica was in the fourth lane. The sixth lane was allotted to Debbie Flintoff of Australia. Finland girl Tuija Helander was in the seventh lane. The host nation had its representative in the last lane. The runner’s name was Judi Brown. No wonder, she received maximum encouragement from the crowd.
All the athletes were in their blocks. With a shot of the gun, they all started but it was adjudged a false start. After the reset, we witnessed a clean start.
Nawal got the early lead. At the halfway stage, it was clear that the Moroccan girl is in great shape. On the other hand, Indian hopes began to fade. P T Usha was lagging behind. She was among the last three girls. The 5th hurdle had been crossed, she was still among the last three.
At the 6th hurdle, it remained the same. She was way back. Realizing her position, she tested her limits. It worked. She had climbed to fifth at the final bend. 75 meters were remaining and she was still fifth. Two more hurdles were left. At the 9th hurdle, she caught up with the leaders. She was now fourth and Cristina was slightly ahead.
In the final 10 meters, the US girl from the last lane lit up the stadium. With blazing speed, she outwitted 3 athletes in the blink of an eye. It was a spectacular upset for silver. Finally, the three athletes including PT Usha crossed the finishing line together for the third position. It was a stiff fight for bronze.
Usha was confident that she had won the bronze. The organizers announced the same. Quickly, they overruled their verdict. The big screen inside the stadium kept playing the race. Everything was uncertain.
The final result was like a stab in the heart of the Indian fans. Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco had won the Gold by the timing of 54.61 seconds. Judy Brown timed 55.20 seconds. The USA celebrated silver. Cojocaru clinched bronze by the timing of 55.41 seconds. Usha’s time was 55.42 seconds.
P T Usha missed the medal by only one-hundredth of a second. She burst into tears. The pain was evident on her face. The emotional girl had given her all at this race. Remarkably, 36 years have gone. Her timing of 400 hurdles is still a national record.
Nawal’s achievement was a breakthrough moment for Muslim girls around the world. King Hassan II of Morocco telephoned her and declared that all girls born in Morocco on that day were to be named in her honour.
Later Usha confessed that it was her lack of experience in hurdles that cost her loss. She realized that had she to lunge forward on the tape, would she have then grabbed the bronze medal. She humbly said that she wasn’t aware of that technique at that time. Some blamed non-nutritious and poor quality food at the venue. Some say that the restart broke her rhythm. In the second try, she was slow to start. Some say that the dip in the line might have worked.
Well, that was the closest that one has reached in securing a medal in Athletics in Olympics for India. Since then, we await our first medal from track and field. We hope that this changes soon.
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