India’s track superstar PT Usha recalls that during the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984, where she missed a medal by one-hundredth of a second, she was forced to eat just rice porridge with the pickle at the Games Village.
That food without any nutrition supplement had cost her the bronze, she claims.
“That definitely affected my performance in the last 35 metres of my event since I couldn’t sustain the energy level,” she said.
In that epic 400m hurdles final, Usha and Cristieana Cojocaru of Romania crossed the finish line at almost the same time but the latter prevailed as she went for the decisive lunge.
Usha regrets that in those days only the bare facilities were available to Indian athletes.
“We would jealously look at the athletes from other countries enjoying fabulous amenities; they had the latest equipment at their disposal. We wondered if we too would one day have access to such facilities,” she is quoted as saying in an interview in the latest edition of the Equator Line magazine.
She then goes on to say that for days at the Games Village she was forced to eat rice porridge with the pickle.
“I remember it – the pickle we in Kerala call ‘kadu manga achar’. That and some sliced fruit. I was not accustomed to baked potatoes or half-boiled chicken with soya sauce and some other typical American food.
“No one had told us that in LA we would get only American food. I had no choice but to eat rice porridge without any nutrition supplement, and that definitely affected my performance in the last 35 metres of my event since I couldn’t sustain the energy level,” she says.
Usha blazed the track for 18 glorious years winning medals for India at various competitions. Now the ace sprinter runs a coaching academy – Usha School of Athletics.
On that unforgettable race of 1984, Usha says, “It was a perfect start for me. As planned, I tried to cross the first hurdles of 45 metres in 6.2 secs and kept the rhythm and maintained that level of speed and endurance… But in the last 35 metres, I couldn’t sustain my energy at a consistent level.”
Nawal Moutawakal (Morocco) won the gold and Ann Louise (Sweden) the silver medal.
Usha says she now wants to fulfil her dream of an Indian sprinter on the Olympic podium.
“Now my life is completely focused on that goal with the start of Usha School of Athletics. The school seeks to give the budding athletes things I was denied as an athlete. Eighteen girls are training here as boarders,” she says.