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The Heptathlon

A young Indian woman, with a humble, rural background has suddenly brought into the limelight, an event, well known but hitherto unheralded. Capt Seshadri takes a look at the challenging Heptathlon. 

In athletics, as in life, only a few parts can be glamorous. The leading running stars are, obviously, the fastest men and women; not that we should take anything away from their efforts. Still, there is glory in events like the marathon, the ultimate test of endurance and stoicism. While track takes centre stage, with the finishing tape in the front of the most august audience, the field events and the throws are an integral part of every athletics competition across the globe. Each one of these needs specialised training, commitment, dedication and a great deal of effort.

Combining all these is an oft-forgotten event, relegated to the sidelines, yet requiring a rare combination of speed, strength and endurance. Seven highly competitive events spread over two days, comprises the heptathlon, a name quite naturally derived from Greek, denoting seven (hepta) athlon (feat). It appears that this is a further take from the once popular pentathlon, and is now contested by both women and men, the former vying for honours outdoors and the latter, indoors. Both, however, are dissimilar in the types of competitions.

When it started

The first women’s heptathlon was reportedly held in 1980 and qualified as an Olympic sport in the 1984 Summer Games.  Today, it is part of the IAAF World Championships, and the IAAF Combined Events Challenge decides who is the women’s heptathlon number one for the year. Points are allotted according to performance in each of the events, in terms of time or distance, with the athlete amassing the most points being the obvious winner.

The first day of the competition comprises the 100 metres hurdles, the high jump, the shot put and the 200 metres. With two sprints, and a field and a throw event each behind them, the women go into the second day with the long jump, the javelin and finally, the 800 metres. Naturally, no individual can be best at everything, so it matters little that the champion athlete should finish on the podium in every event. While one school of thought might recommend that the competitor should be above average in all the events, if not necessarily within a ‘first three’ finish, in reality, each athlete specialises in a few of them and makes calculated compromises in the rest to garner maximum points overall. In effect, the participant actually competes not against the rest of the field, but rather, against the score table, a matrix constructed by an Austrian mathematician, Dr Karl Ulbrich, with points from zero to 1,000 and above for every event.

To score 1,000 points per event, each athlete would be required to perform, on an average, something like this:

110 m hurdles                                   13.85 seconds

High Jump                                              1.82 metres

Shot put                                                 17.07 metres

200 metres                                           23.80 seconds

Long jump                                               6.48 metres

Javelin                                                     57.18 metres

800 metres                                         2:07.83 seconds

Mundane figures, to the normal eye, but to the most competitive athlete, an almost impossible task to accumulate 7,000 points. In fact, the women’s world record has been set at 7,291 points, with the athlete surpassing the 1,000 average in just three of the events, her obvious favourites.

The men’s heptathlon, at first glance, appears to consist of much easier events than those for the women, but the competition is extremely intense and the performances in each, marginal. The men hepathletes compete in the 60 m, long jump, shot put, high jump, 60 m hurdles, pole vault and the 1,000 m, the first four on Day 1 and the remaining on the second day.

And finally, for the super athletes not satisfied with just seven events, there is also a tetradecathlon, a double heptathlon, consisting of 14 events, with seven events each day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Walk, don’t run

Running not your cup of tea, try Racewalking instead says Capt Seshadri

The glamour of the marathon has possibly relegated another gruelling track event to a lower position in the pecking order. While ‘pedestrian’ is a word usually associated with slow movement, there is a term not so well known, although the implications are far from slowness: ‘pedestrianism’, or its better-known synonym, racewalking.

This sport reportedly took roots sometime in the mid 1800s with a set of rules that typified and differentiated it from running. In this case, one foot must be in contact with the ground at all times, unlike both feet in the air during the running stride. Finding increasing participation over the decades, racewalking has now evolved into an Olympic and World Championship event, with races ranging across different distances, although the 20km and 50 km are probably the most popular. In some countries, there are even competitions from a short 3,000 metres to as long as 100 km.  In the modern era, the sport has been dominated by walkers from Russia and China, but now facing intense competition from Latin Americans.

The intricacy of racewalking is in the length of the stride and the rhythm, or cadence. While the former is short, in order to keep both feet on the ground, the latter could best compare with the stride of an 800 or 1,500 metre runner. And there is much more to the sport than just these two. Racewalkers typically keep low to the ground and pump their arms with the elbows almost tucked into the hips. This pelvic rotation results in achieving the best momentum, sometimes as close as 15 km per hour, while adhering to the rule of both feet on the ground. Judges rely purely on observation and usually warn participants before disqualifying them for running.

In England, as early as in 1866, the first racewalking championship was won by one John Chambers, judged to have been fair to the ‘heel and toe’ method of contact with the ground. Today, it has developed into a state of art event, with a training regime on par with the toughest long distance runs, having been an integral part of the Olympics since 1904. But it was a century later, in 2003, that the IAAF thought it fit to organise a World Race Walking Challenge, a series of walks held in different venues across the world and culminating in a World Final offering USD 200,000 of prize money.

Racewalking employs more muscle groups than regular walking, which means you have a higher exercise intensity, similar to that in running. It is a vigorous-intensity activity while normal brisk walking is a moderate-intensity activity. Your heart and lungs will be working much harder. Maria Michta-Coffey, a Polish origin American, and the fastest US woman racewalker sums it up nicely: “Most people who’ve ever seen racewalking in action assume it’s ‘just walking.’ But there is much more to the event. And no—even if it appears a racewalker is running, he or she is not. For us, racewalking is technical because there are rules, so it’s slower than running. (But) You’re still pushing your body to the limit and maximizing efficiency as best as possible.”

For the statisticians, the Olympics, has three racewalking events: a men’s and women’s 20 km and a men’s 50 km. While the men’s 50 km was introduced in 1932, the shorter version came about in 1956. The women’s event started as a 10 km race in 1992 at Barcelona, and the 20 km was introduced as late as in 2000 at Sydney. London 2012 saw all the racewalking records shattered, by Chen Ding of China in the men’s 20 km, Jarred Talent in the 50 km and Elena Lashmanova among the women, setting a world record in racewalking in the Olympics for the first time ever.

So, if you don’t feel up to running, racewalk. You might just surprise yourself at the effort.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Indian woman, International champion

Remembering an athlete who inspired generations, Anju George, the runner we honour for Women’s Day, by Capt Seshadri.

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, with several million posts across social media, it is certainly an occasion to raise a toast to every mother, wife and daughter. Somewhere in the annals of history, however, lie outstanding achievers, whose pages gather dust, glories forgotten.

Born on April 19, 1977, in a small village in Kerala, God’s own country that also produces God’s own athletes, a young woman by the name of Anju Bobby George made history by becoming the first Indian athlete to win a medal in a World Championships. Initiated into athletics by her father, she soon excelled in the sprints and jumps, going on to a podium finish in the National Schools Games. Her initial foray into athletics was in the heptathlon, but it soon became obvious that the jumps were her forte. While the triple jump brought her several medals and even the National record, her favourite event was the long jump. Graduating from gold in the Junior Asian Championship in 1996, Anju broke into the international scene winning medals in several Asian and Commonwealth Games and across continents as far apart as Africa, Europe and Asia.

Her athletics career took a spiral turn upwards with her coming under the wing of Bobby George, a former National triple jump champion turned coach. This remarkable athlete was a Mechanical Engineer, who gave up both his technical and sports careers in 1998, to train Anju. Intensive training, careful planning and sheer toil combined to work magic. From a low rank of 61 in 2001, she shot up the ladder to be ranked 6th by 2003. This was when they both realised that to make a strong mark on the international scene, she needed the exposure. Anju went on to train under the legendary Mike Powell, who worked on her technique and skills and set her two rungs higher in the ladder at number 4 in the world.

Some of her more memorable moments came in 2005 when she won gold at the IAAF World Athletics in Monte Carlo, wresting the medal from Tatyana Kotova of Russia who was stripped of her first place finish. Her personal best of 6.83 metres came at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but that was still only good enough to earn her fifth place. In recognition of her sporting achievements, in 2002, the Government of India conferred on her prestigious Arjuna Award. Her medal performance at World level in 2003 earned her the nation’s highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna. And, for her outstanding contribution to athletics, she was awarded the Padma Shri, the country’s fourth highest civilian award.

The bonding between athlete and coach was so strong that the couple soon tied the marital knot. Anju is currently the Chairperson of TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme) and an Executive Member of the government’s Khelo India project.

Anju Bobby George wrote a new chapter in the history of Indian sports, when she became the first Indian athlete among women and men, winning a bronze at the 2003 World Athletics Championships in Paris. A fitting moment to remember, especially on International Women’s Day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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The wind of change

The first role model for black and female athletes, Capt Seshadri remembers the stunning achievements of the ‘Tornado’ Wilma Rudolph.

The date was November 12, 1994. The flag of the state of Tennessee flew at half mast as the citizens shed tears at the passing away of child number 20. From a family that had two more siblings. And all of them from a railway porter father who was twice wedded. This is the story of the ‘Tornado’ of the 1960s… the fastest woman on earth.

The Early Years

Wilma Rudolph, the first American woman to win three golds in a single Olympics, was born on June 23, 1940, into a family of indigents. From early childhood, she suffered from various illnesses like pneumonia and scarlet fever, and at the age of 4, contracted infantile paralysis. In the process of recovering from this debilitating disease caused by the polio virus, she was forced to wear a leg brace for the next four years. The following years were a constant trip to Nashville for treatment and massages for her leg, which was supported by an orthopaedic shoe. But this wonder kid, at age 12, broke away from the restrictions and began walking without artificial support.

Back at high school as a tenth grader, Wilma began playing basketball and her rare, natural talent was spotted by Ed Temple, the track and field coach of Tennessee. And so, fourteen year old Wilma signed up for his summer training camp; in a short time, she was winning as many as nine events in a single meet. Even while a high school student, she trained with the Tennessee State University women’s track team, the Tigerbelles, racing and winning amateur athletic events with amazing regularity.

The Olympics

Wilma’s Olympic debut came about in 1956 at Melbourne, where she competed in the 200 metres and collected bronze in the 4×400 metres relay. Some time later, while still a student, she ran the 200 metres at Abilene in the US Olympic track and field trials in a world record time that stood its ground for eight years! Her sprint to fame however, came four years later at the Stadio Olimpico at Rome, where she set the cinder track ablaze with three golds, in the 100 & 200 metres and the 4×100 metre relay, in the process becoming the first American woman to achieve a triple Olympic gold. But the 200 metres still proved her favourite where, although she won gold in the final in 24.0 seconds, she had already set a new Olympic record of 23.2 seconds in the opening heat!

The ‘Tornado’

Wilma Rudolph was one of the first role models for black and female athletes. Her Olympic success is quoted as having given a tremendous boost to women’s participation in track and field events in the United States. The effect of her successes went far beyond her collection of medals; she was instrumental in breaking the gender barrier in a male dominated area of track and field athletics. A sensational achievement in such an era, fighting physical disability, fiscal hardship and a social handicap, proving to the world that in a battle of disability vs determination, the winner is ever predictable.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Game. Set. And unmatched.

Capt Seshadri encountered a determined athlete in Madhu Bagri, who only believed in excelling no matter what the odds.

We watch Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal slug it out on the courts. Athletes supreme, fitness and endurance a byword in sport. And yet, even they are falliable, succumbing every once in a while, to mental fatigue and bodily injury. What then of a young woman, born with a disability, facing physical pain and psychological pressure and yet making a mark on the international tennis scene?

Infantile polio confined her to a wheelchair from the tender age of 18 months. Later, at age 11, a spinal surgery kept her in bed for three years. Her family literally gave up on her. But her spirit remained unchained. The indomitable spirit of Madhu Bagri, India’s first international woman wheelchair tennis player. A brave young woman who has faced extreme odds of being born different, into a family who knew next to nothing about coping with her problem, and a sibling with an outright abhorrence of her difference.

Madhu went through school but had to stop after her surgery; much against her desire, the family wanted her to quit studying further. Alone but undaunted, she pursued her studies through distance education and graduated in Commerce, undeniably proud of her academic achievement. Says Madhu: “That phase of my life was akin to waging a world war. Wherein I was at one end and everyone else at the other and the fight was bitter and brutal. Everyone including my family asked me to quit my studies and just accept life as it was. But I never gave up and I fought against all odds to complete my studies and I did so with flying colours.”

The Journey Begins

In her early years, she had always evinced a great deal of interest in sport, unfortunately never having heard about para sports or even imagined physically impaired people being able to indulge in any kind of sporting activity. Still, she used to spend hours in her backyard in Ahmedabad, in a wheelchair, playing badminton, and willing herself to reach the shuttle every time.

Having graduated and wanting to pursue a career, Madhu worked in a few organisations and even tried to venture out on her own in business. However, like her earlier years of study, her career journey too was not a pleasant one. Poor infrastructure, miles of red tape and an indifferent attitude by those around her were major stumbling blocks. The turning point in her life came about in 2012 when she decided to revive her long ignored but still burning passion for sport. It was only after she joined a badminton academy that she realised that there was something called sport for the disabled. She never looked back.

Unstoppable Athlete

Although she had been playing badminton, tennis was her first love and it had been a dream to be able to play the game. A casual question by a coach spurred her to take up wheelchair tennis; within a few months of commencing training, she qualified to play international tournaments. Pramesh Modi, a tennis coach, spotted her ability and the fire in her to excel against odds. Under his tutelage, in a short span of three years, she won the national championship twice. From the time she took up the sport, she has participated in ten international tournaments, finishing second in one of them. In the process, Madhu Bagri has earned the distinction of being the first woman to represent India in a wheelchair tennis tournament for women and also the first to be ranked internationally in ITF wheelchair tennis.

Madhu has quietly lived on her own for the past 14 years or so, preparing to play more tournaments in the coming years. To further strengthen her muscles, she has taken to swimming, under the instruction of her coach. Her inspiration to dream and aim higher stems from the fact that not just differently-abled sports-persons, but even able-bodied people are motivated by her courage, enthusiasm and never say die spirit.  Game, set and match indeed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Standing tall – from a wheelchair

Capt Seshadri tells us the extraordinary story of Para-Olympian Deepa Malik who brought home the silver medal from Rio, in 2016.

This is a saga of unbelievable courage and the will to win against all odds. Set in the backdrop of the Kargil war, when a brave army Colonel was fighting for his country, back home, his wife was fighting for her life.

This is the true story of a woman with indomitable spirit, who simply refused to give up.  Army daughter, army wife and mother of two, Deepa Malik was diagnosed with a tumour in the spinal cord that required 3 major surgeries and 183 stitches between her shoulders. Paralyzed from below the waist, she was destined to be consigned to a wheelchair for life. Her elder daughter was in need of special care with a motor disability called hemiplegia. But nothing could daunt this extraordinary woman who simply refused to look helplessly upon life as a paraplegic. While most able bodied sports persons would be content with success in a single sport, Deepa began a multi-faceted sports career at 36, an age when most sportspeople retire.  Over the next few years, she became a champion biker, swimmer, rally driver and athlete, creating and breaking records in every sport that she attempted.

The Unstoppable Spirit 

Her old passion for biking was rekindled and, with a ‘quad’ bike modified to her specifications, she enrolled with the Himalayan Motorsports Association and the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India. Over an 8 day period, in rarefied atmosphere and sub zero temperatures, at an altitude of 18,000 feet, she rode her bike through 1,700 km, the first woman to undertake such an arduous journey. In 2013, Deepa biked 3,278 km from Chennai to Delhi, the longest ever drive by a paraplegic woman.

Discovering that her shoulders needed strengthening to help with her biking, she took to swimming, little realizing what she was about to achieve. In her S1 category, she holds national records in 3 styles – freestyle, breast and back stroke. Breaking away from the limitation of a swimming pool, she plunged into the Yamuna river and swam against the current for a distance of 1 km.

Her competitive spirit soon turned to a new area. For 19 months, Deepa relentlessly fought for a licence for an invalid person’s modified rally vehicle and followed it up with an FMSCI rallying licence for competitive driving, both firsts for any physically challenged person. Her grit and determination saw her complete two of the toughest rallies in the world – the Raid de Himalaya in 2009 and the Desert Storm in 2010.

The Big Win

In 2016, at age 46, Deepa won a silver in the Paralympics in the shot put, becoming the first Indian woman to win a medal in these Games. Currently, she holds national records in the F53 category in the shot put, discus and javelin throws and the Asian record in the javelin. Between 2010 and 2012, Deepa was ranked first in Asia in all the three throws; at the world level, she ranked second in the shot put and third in the javelin and discus throws.

Overall, Deepa Malik has won 58 national and 18 international medals in various disciplines. Not one to rest on her laurels, she also actively works to highlight the needs of other paraplegic sportspersons to the authorities, with great success. For her achievements in swimming, she won the Arjuna Award in 2012. Her untiring work in contributing to sport and her fighting spirit against pain and disability to make a mark on the world stage, won her the prestigious Padma Shri award in 2017.

Deepa had this to say on winning her 2016 Paralympics silver: “I hope my journey and the medal can serve as an inspiration for differently-abled individuals to break out from their social boundaries and pursue their dreams.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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The high jumper who never looked down

 

This is a story of extreme determination and courage is what defines Mariyappan Thangavelu’s story. Capt Seshadri explores his extraordinary journey.

A chronicle of the extraordinary achievements of an ordinary boy, one of six children, hailing from a little village in Salem District of Tamil Nadu, undaunted by disability, pain and the odds that were stacked against him.

When Life Changed

A little boy, five years of age, while on the way to school, was hit by a drunk truck driver. The huge wheels ran over his little leg, crushing the bones below the knee and making it virtually unusable. This was a child whose labourer father had abandoned the family, which was now dependent for a livelihood on their mother, who earned a paltry 100 rupees a day carrying bricks at construction sites. Fifteen years later, the same young lad who had never considered himself different from anyone else, had completed not just his schooling, but had also graduated in Business Administration.

While in school, he excelled in volleyball; however, his physical instructor, spotting a special ability in him, encouraged him to take to high jumping. Such was his motivation and confidence, that at age 16, he placed second in a high jump competition among a host of able bodied competitors.

The High Jumper 

In 2013, Mariyappan Thangavelu, the young high jumper, was spotted by Mr Satyanarayana, a coach with the Sports  Academy of India for the differently abled who, a couple of years later, took him under his wing and moved him to Bengaluru, for specialised and intensive training. The move proved extremely fruitful. The journey to fame was from Tamil Nadu to Tunisia for the IPC Grand Prix, where he cleared a height of 1.78 metres ( 5 ft 10 in) in the men’s high jump T 42 event, qualifying him for the Rio Paralympics. The young man was apparently not satisfied with this performance. In Rio in 2016, he raised the bar to clear 1.89 metres (6 ft 2 in) to win gold, a feat that had not been achieved since 2004. ‘Master Blaster’ Sachin Tendulkar was so impressed by his performance that he set up a sports fund for his benefit.

Today, Mariyappan remains simple, humble and committed to his roots. Part of his prize money funded a paddy field and a better home for his mother. In his mind he still remains a village boy, seeking the continued affection of his old friends and shunning the formality that comes from such success.

Born: 28 June 1995 in Periavadagampatti village, Salem District, Tamil Nadu.

Achievement: Paralympic Gold – 2016, Padma Shri and Arjuna Awards – 2017.

Headlines: Plans by Aishwarya Dhanush to make a movie on his life.

Aspiration: to complete an MBA soon.

This is the inspiring and exemplary story of Mariyappan Thangavelu. For him, the bar is never too high.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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The Queen of Indian Track and Field

The legendary runner, P T Usha, loved by millions and an inspiration to all athletes in the 80s, was known as the Payyoli Express. Capt Seshadri profiles the prolific runner. 

Kerala. God’s own country. A land of lush green forests, sprawling backwaters and a pristine coastline. Somewhere along the Malabar Coast of Kerala lies the quiet town of Payyoli. And through this town runs an express. An express that does not run on steam, diesel or electricity. An express, however, that has won 101 gold medals internationally.

Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha better known to India and the world simply as PT Usha, hailing from this little town, earned the title of the “Payyoli Express” through her immortal achievements on the athletics track. Such is her fame and popularity that not just streets but even babies are named after her.

The early 1980s were not a particularly conducive period for Indian athletes, far less a woman. International training facilities and experienced coaches were virtually unknown. Exposure to the world arena was very limited and there was a complete lack of scientific management. In this scenario, Usha started running at the age of 13. As early as in Class VII, she was so quick that she would beat the then District champion. During her training sessions, she would request male athletes to pace for her; however, they never asked her to pace for them, afraid that they might not be able to match her!

Motivation and training, both of which were largely self-developed, were crucial to success even at the National level. There was abundance of talent but no means to channelise it, recalls Usha. To quote her: ““After many years of experience in athletics, I am convinced that what we lack in India is not talent, but the basic, modern and scientific facilities. If we train our young Indian sports talents, nothing, not even Olympic medals, is unachievable.” She dedicates her achievements to her coach and mentor, OM Nambiar who, in 1985, won the Dronacharya Award for his contribution to Indian athletics.

Dwelling on the past, she recalls how she could have made it big in the Los Angeles Olympics if only she had had the opportunity to participate and benefit from more international exposure. Nevertheless, she became the first ever Indian woman to reach an Olympics finals, winning the 400 metres hurdles semi-finals in 1984. She rues the manner in which she lost the bronze by 1/100th of a second, simply because she didn’t lunge at the tape. She was not used to it, simply because she would usually win most of her races by margins of 10 m.

To crown a glorious athletic career, in 2002, after her retirement from active competition, PT Usha strongly felt the need to take sport to the grassroots level and train and share her experience with budding young talent. Hence was conceived the ‘Usha School of Athletics’ focussed on girl athletes who, she firmly believes, have the potential to bring home Olympic golds. Her school has 18 girls, mostly from underprivileged backgrounds, living on the residential campus, schooling during the day and training for over 5 hours every day, in the mornings and evenings. Funding comes purely from individual donations, but that does not deter Usha from pursuing her ambition and goals.

At a time when India was virtually unknown in international athletics, the Payyoli Express stood out as a shining example of what determination and hard work could achieve against all odds. An icon and a living legend, PT Usha swept the 100, 200, and 400 metres, the 400 metres hurdles, and the 4 x 400 metres relay at the 1985 Asian Track and Field Championship in Indonesia, pushing India up from 14th to 4th place in the overall championship list. Usha was honoured the same year with the Padma Shree and Arjuna awards.

The Payyoli Express, who still jogs unfailingly every morning, expresses her anguish at the dropping fitness levels in kids. The best way to get them fit is to organise family games like football, basketball and running, she feels. Dwelling on the bad food habits of today’s children, she talks about how she used to eat large quantities of potatoes for her carb requirement. The how the food in LA during the 1984 Olympics was so bland that she carried a bottle of pickles to add to her food!

When she is not running or training her wards, Usha loves watching movies and to clean and cook. Quite natural to her roots, fish curry is her favourite food. Simplicity personified, humble and humane, PT Usha has etched a name in Indian athletics that will stay in memory for a long time to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams

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Jumping long, aiming high

Michael  Powell, is an Olympian who was a former track and field athlete, and is the holder of the long jump world record. Capt Seshadri profile the phenomenal athlete who was the a brand ambassador for the TSK25 Kolkata 2017

At 77 kilos, he was as light as a feather. He too could float like a butterfly, an attribute that belonged to another legend from his country, although of a different kind of sport.

This is the story of a world beating athlete who rediscovered himself. In April 2013, 17 years after retirement, he was invited to participate in a charity long jump event in Japan. Among the crowd was none other than his former foe, the legendary Carl Lewis. By then 35 kilos heavier than his normal weight, at a hefty 112 kg, and in no way fit to compete, he was disconsolate after faring badly against virtually unknown amateurs. Urged by one of his closest friends and former world triple jump record holder Willie Banks, to train back into shape, stunned by his own lack of fitness and now spurred into action, he returned to his home in California a completely changed man. A mere year and a half later, down to a trim 83 kg, he announced his ambitions of going for the World Masters long jump record. “Fat doesn’t fly and now I’m lighter it is about me getting that masters record,” says he. If he achieves this, he will be the only athlete to hold the World and Masters records in a single event.

This is the story of Mike Powell. The man who broke Bob Beamon’s ‘leap of the century’ by 5 cm, flying through the air to 8.95 m at the 1991 World Championships in Athletics in Tokyo, in the process, pushing ‘King’ Carl to second place. For his stupendous feat, he was rewarded with the James E. Sullivan Award and the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year Award, the same year. In 1992, at Sestriere in Italy, he almost cleared 9m with a jump of 8.99 m, but the record did not stand as it was considered wind aided. However, as the years passed, he had to be satisfied with a silver in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the gold in 1993 and the bronze at the 1995 World Championships in Athletics.

Mike Powell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but moved to study at Edgewood High School in West Covina, California. He went on to attend the University of California, Irvine and later transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Apart from his scholarly pursuits and his athletics career, his feat in basketball is a successful dunk from the free throw line in the 1992-93 Foot Locker Slam Fest! With music as his love and dancing being both his passion and a way of staying fit, he has even been a popular DJ!

Powell, who now coaches budding long jumpers at Academy of Speed in Rancho Cucamonga, California, is a brand ambassador for the TSK25 Kolkata 2017. He has very fond memories of India, the people, their enthusiasm and warmth, also recalling in lighter vein, the warmth of the weather.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams

Read more