Countdown to Rio: Making History, from PT Usha to Deepika Kumari

Digvijay Singh Deo, Sports Editor of CNN-News18, co-author of the book My Olympic Journey tells us more about PT Usha, Karnam Malleswari, to Deepika Kumari

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Women At The Olympics

Our last excerpt from My Olympic Journey takes a look at Deepika Kumari's incredible achievements. Digvijay Singh Deo comments on some of his favourite stories from the Olympics -- past and present -- and how some of our newer stars are proving to be incredible game-changers. From PT Usha, to Karnam Malleswari, to Deepika Kumari, find out more below!


You can read more from our series here and here

She missed by a whisker: PT Usha

When you talk about Indian Women and Sport, PT Usha was a must-have. We kept pushing for it, and there was a back and forth, but ultimately she agreed and we spoke on the phone for more than an hour.

And I think even today that romanticism is there — everyone talked about Milkha Singh and Usha, who came 4th and just missed the medal. But today in hindsight, you have this footage up and you can see the race, and try to put yourself in the athlete’s perspective. Since I was writing in first person, I had to be extremely sure that I got the entire race the way it was. The way Milkha came 4th, yes, but Milkha lost by a fair margin, the distance between him and the guy who came third, but in terms of PT Usha — and I cross-checked this with 3/4 people who were there that day in Los Angeles — she crossed the line first, but what she did was she didn’t dip her chest.

Sadly, when you look at a photo finish, you look at who crossed the line first and dips the chest. What happened there was that the Romanian athlete didn’t cross the line first, but had dipped her chest. So after half an hour of playing and re-playing the footage, Usha lost out by 1/100th of a second, it was that close.

She talks about how she went to Moscow as a 15 year old kid, and had never gone abroad, as a shy girl from Kerala, but all her thing in life was mujhe last nahin aana — she knew she wouldn’t win, but she talks about the first time abroad, the first time she wore spikes (because in India you didn’t have tracks those days)…

And then she talks about ’84, and how in ’84, she didn’t actually know much about the 400 m hurdles, because it was introduced in that Olympics, and how she actually went and they trained for it and went and had a few competitions in the US and that’s it. I think she must have had 5/6 competitions and then she went in to that race. In the pre-Olympics she beat the American champion who got silver and all that stuff.

PT Usha The sporting icon: PT Usha( Picture Credit:

And this coach from a European country used to keep asking what is the secret of your success? She said, I used to carry this Kerala pickle with me because the food was so bland — I offered it to that guy, this is (the secret to) my success. The guy didn’t know what was happening and he picked it up and had a  spoon, and he ran all over the dining hall in agony, because it was so fiery. He had to have multiple ice creams and all. You know, this was the secret to my success.


That was one which I really enjoyed writing, because Usha was an icon when we were growing up.

That was one which I really enjoyed writing, because Usha was an icon when we were growing up.

Karnam Malleswari: The one who broke barriers

Then Karnam Malleswari is something I just love, she broke a barrier, no one expected a woman to win a medal in those days. After Usha there was a long gap.

Malleswari gave the belief when she won that medal in Sydney, and that too in a sport which involved heavy lifting. She talks about the entire process and how she qualified. The fact that even before she left, somebody told her husband, Arre, jao Olympics khel ke aao, Bahut badi baath hai. Kahan larikya jeete hai.

She says I wanted to win, and she said I prepared to win. She says the day Leander won in Atlanta, the next morning, there was a party in Bangalore, and the director was MP Ganesh, himself a hockey medalist in ’72; he said yeh Leander hai, aapke senior, inhonhai medal Olympics main jeeta hai… bahut saal baad medal aaya hain, yeh badi baath also should aspire.


And she said that day I aspired, that I also will be on the Olympic podium.

Karnam Malleswari She broke barriers: Karnam Malleswari ( Picture credit:

And she talks about her regret — she says, I thought I could win the gold; there was a miscalculation from my coaches which cost me the gold. She says all I needed to do was lift 3 kilos, they upped my weight by 7 kilos, that’s why I lost the gold. And even today the regret is that I could have won the gold, and not the bronze.

I love that story, because she broke a barrier.  And later Sania and all told me, and even Saina mentioned it, that when they were kids… I mean it’s a huge thing that an Indian girl has won a medal. And then again you had a long gap till Saina and Mary won in London.

The 2016 Olympic aspirant: Archer Deepika Kumari

If Deepika Kumari ends up winning an Olympic medal, it will single-handedly change the face of women’s sport in India. Women’s sport will never be the same again. It will dwarf to a huge extent the success that these girls have had — She’s a tribal girl; the social start is completely different — the fillip it will give to tribal girls!


There’s a lot of potential in the tribal belt — grit and willpower, too. Deepika exemplifies that from the heartland; Her father used to drive an auto rickshaw; she got into sports since parents couldn’t afford to get her to school. She went to the Archery academy.

She says, London was a huge shock - I myself couldn’t belies was hat was going wrong with me. I go there to win; I was world number 1 before the Olympics… She talks a lot about the hurt.  

I think she is phenomenally talented — already you’ve had a different sort of growth with Sania, Mary, Saina, but she comes from a LIC group - -What a story!

Deepika Kumari Aiming for Olympic glory:Deepika Kumari. Click here to know more about her  ( Picture

The following is Deepika Kumari's Excerpt from MY OLYMPIC JOURNEY


In hindsight, I realize we just could not handle the wind at Lord’s which was hosting the archery tournament. We lost to Denmark in the first round itself. It was a massive setback, and we were gutted, as a year’s hard work had disappeared in a flash.

I still had my individual event to look forward to, and having shot well in the ranking round, I did not have a very strong opponent first up. However, by the time I shot my first round against Amy Oliver, both my teammates had lost in the singles competition as well. The pressure was well and truly on me to deliver and save the entire archery contingent from complete disaster. I was focused, and losing never even crossed my mind. I went into that match like any other, and went through the same process as I had all through my international career.

I do not know what went wrong that day. By the time I could figure out and account for the wind, I was out. I was releasing the arrow perfectly but was not getting the desired grouping. In practice and other events, I regularly shoot tens, but was just not able to that day. I fought very hard to pull back and focus on the wind but to no avail. My coach, Purnima Mahato, was behind me and even she could not figure out what went wrong.

The event was over in a flash, and that was the end of my first Olympic experience. I was not just disappointed in myself, I was also in a state of shock. I tried crying to get over it, but the tears would just not be summoned. I locked myself up in my room for a couple of days till my coach forcibly dragged me out and took me shopping at the mall next door, where I bought some gifts for my family. My coach tried consoling me, telling me I would get better opportunities in the future and that I was lucky to have played the Olympics at an age when most people were still learning the sport. I filed away each detail of the last few days and remembered the mistakes I had made, vowing never to repeat them again. I told myself to train my mind to shut out the crowd, whose cheering had distracted me even while I was aiming.

The headlines after my defeat in London hurt me. They hurt me even today. Perhaps that is the reason I tend to stay away from the media; I do not want to go through the trauma again. Yes, there was a lot of expectation from me and yes, I could not deliver. Though it was harsh, I agree that the media had every right to criticize my failure and that of the entire team. At the Olympic Games, it’s not just the athlete, but the entire nation that wants a medal.

But what most people don’t take into account while criticizing athletes is that losing really hurts. It’s hard to understand the pain and trauma we sportspersons go through as only 10 to 20 per cent of our lives are spent in the public domain. We grieve away from everyone, in the confines of the locker room or in the relative obscurity of the Olympic Village. I have never shared my pain after that crushing defeat and this is probably the only time I am speaking of it. Even my parents could not understand the trauma I went through. Only I know it, as it was my dream that went up in smoke before I could do anything to stop it from happening. As I see it, I have unfinished business with the Olympic Games. The demons within will only be conquered when I have that medal around my neck.


Excerpts taken from My Olympic Journey with kind permission Penguin Random House India and Digvijay Singh Deo  





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