Pilavullakandi Thekkeparampil Usha (P.T. Usha) or “Payolli Express” as she was popularly known was the reigning queen of Indian track and field for two decades. She is regarded as one of the greatest athletes India has ever produced. This “Golden Girl” was born on June 27, 1964 in a village called Payolli near Perambra in Kozhikode district of Kerala. Usha has won 101 international medals so far. She is employed as an officer in the Southern Railways. In 1983 & 19855, she was conferred the Padma Shri and the Arjuna Award respectively.


In 1976 the Kerala Government started a Sports division for women in Kannur, where Usha was chosen to represent her district. Her march to fame started in 1979, when she won the individual championship at the National School Games, she was noticed by O. M. Nambiar, who coached her throughout her career. In 1980, in her first international meet, she won 4 gold medals for India. In the 1982 New Delhi Asiad, she got the silver medal in the 100m and the 200m, but at the Asian Track and Field Championship in Kuwait a year later, Usha took the gold in the 400m with a new Asian record.

At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, she finished first in the semi-finals of the 400 metres hurdles, but narrowly missed a medal in the finals, reminiscent of Milkha Singh‘s 1960 defeat. There was a nail-biting photo finish for the third place. Usha lost the bronze by 1/100th of a second.

In the 10th Asian Games held at Seoul in 1986, P. T. Usha won 4 gold medals and 1 silver medal in the track and field events. She also won five gold medals at the 6th Asian Track and Field Championship in Jakarta in 1985. Her medals at the same meet are a record for a single athlete in a single international meet.

Currently she coaches young athletes at her training academy in Kerala, including Tintu Lukka, who was qualified for the women’s semi-final 800m at the London 2012 Olympics.


  • Set a national record at the state athletic meet at Kottayam, 1977.
  • Captured the limelight as a junior athlete in the national interstate meet at Kollam, 1978.
  • Participated in the Moscow Olympics, 1980.
  • Became the first Indian woman to reach the final of an Olympic event.
  • Became the youngest Indian sprinter, aged 16, to compete in the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
  • Tried the 400m for the first time at the 1983 Asian Track and Field Meet (re-christened as the Asian championship) at Kuwait. She emerged successful in the one-lapper in an international arena for the first time.
  • Achieved a record of 55.42 seconds at Los Angeles, the very first time the 400m hurdles were added to the women’s athletics. This is the current Indian national record.
  • Won 5 gold medals and 1 bronze in 1985, at the Jakarta Asian Athletic meet.
  • Won 4 gold and 1silver in 1986, Seoul Asian Games, claiming for herself the title of Asia’s sprint queen.
  • Took a hiatus from the sport following her marriage in 1991, returning in 1993.
  • Participated in three Olympic Games, Moscow 1980, Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988. Member of 4 x 400 m relay squad in Atlanta 1996, but did not compete.
  • Represented India in 4 x 100 metres relay together with Rachita Mistry, E. B. Shyla, and Saraswati Saha at the 1998 Asian Championships in Athletics where her team won the gold medal on way to setting the current national record of 44.43 s.


  • Recipient of the Arjuna Award, 1984
  • Padma Shri, 1984
  • Greatest woman athlete, 1985 Jakarta Asian Athletic Meet
  • Best Athlete in Asia Award, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1989
  • World Trophy for best Athlete, 1985, 1986
  • Adidas Golden Shoe award for the best athlete, 1986 Seoul Asian Games
  • Kerala Sports Journalists Award, 1999
  • Thirty international awards for her excellence in athletics

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