She remains India’s most outstanding performer at the Asian Games. P.T. Usha’s exploits on the track began in 1982 at New Delhi and lasted till 1994 at Hiroshima. In 1986 at Seoul, she won four gold and a silver. Remember, India had only won five gold.
As a coach too, she has had success at the Asian Games, guiding Tintu Luka to a gold and silver in 2014 at Incheon. Now, Usha is looking forward to her first Asian Games in an administrative role, as the president of the Indian Olympic Association.
In this exclusive interview with Sportstar, the golden girl of Indian athletics speaks about India’s chances at Hangzhou. Excerpts:
How hopeful are you about India’s medals tally in Hangzhou?
Very. I think we have a chance to record our best ever performance at the Asian Games. There are several disciplines in which we have hopes of winning medals.
Maybe we could first look at your own discipline — athletics. There have been some fine shows of late. The way Neeraj Chopra won the gold in the World Championships at Budapest, where the men’s 4x400m team also reached the final and finished fifth, augurs well for Hangzhou…
Absolutely. Neeraj is one gold medal that we can almost be certain of. Yes, Arshad Nadeem of Pakistan can give him stiff competition, but I am confident of Neeraj’s gold. Kishore Jena could also do well for us in the event
The men’s 4x400m relay team could win the gold, and I expect the longer relay squads in the women’s and mixed sections to get medals as well.
I am also hopeful of the jump events, though we didn’t do as well as we were expecting to at Budapest. In the men’s long jump (Murali Sreeshankar and Jeswin Aldrin) and triple jump (Praveen Chithravel and Abdulla Aboobacker), we have potential medallists. There are medal chances for our female jumpers, such as Shaili Singh and Ancy Sojan, too.
In the women’s section, we could also win medals in 100m hurdles, 400m, 400m hurdles, 800m and javelin. As for the men’s section, we could get medals in 400m, shot put, 3000m steeplechase.
Which are the other disciplines you have high hopes about?
I am expecting medals in hockey, in both men’s and women’s sections. We have world-class competitors in badminton and wrestling. I think we are almost sure of winning medals in badminton in both men’s and women’s competitions, as we are fielding stars such as P.V. Sindhu, Lakshya Sen and H.S. Prannoy. We could do well in archery and weightlifting as well.
India could also benefit from the inclusion of cricket and chess at Hangzhou…
Yes, it is good that those games are included at the Asian Games, especially from an Indian point of view. We definitely could get medals in cricket and chess, both in men’s and women’s competitions. Esports, which is making its Asian Games debut at Hangzhou, also gives us medal hopes.
How do you find your new job as the IOA president?
This is my first major event after I took over. I am pleased with the way things are going, but we could do better. I feel we should be ready in time for our next major event. I think the IOA will be perfectly on track in time for the Olympic Games. I am trying to build a good team around me. This job is certainly not like running on the track, coaching or running an athletics school – I have done all of that. This is an entirely different job. I believe one could do a lot in this job, but it is not easy, as you need plenty of support.
Now, how do you look back at your own performance at the Asian Games? Seoul 1986 must be unforgettable.
To win all those gold medals was great. It was my four gold that took India from the 14th to the fifth position on the medals tally. Those days, the athletes didn’t have any support at all, unlike today when you have all the facilities, specialist trainers for different aspects, nutritionists, sports psychologists and enough exposure.
I will always cherish my memories as an athlete at the Asian Games.
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