There’s a saying that people do not remember those who come fourth in the Olympics. Fortunately, the same hasn’t been true for PT Usha, whose name invokes goosebumps, even to this day, for the people of India; especially for those who have watched her lose the bronze by 1/100th of a second in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
Nearly three decades later, Usha’s dreams of an Olympic medal found their opportunity in a young girl named Tintu Luka. As she failed to make it to the finals of the London Olympics, one could see the Keralite’s hopes crashing and wished Luka would bring home that elusive piece of metal four years later in Rio.
In fact, Luka went from strength to strength following her failure at London. First, she secured bronze at the 2013 Asian Athletics Championship in Pune, then silver at the Incheon Asian Games the next year, followed by a gold medal at the 2015 Asian Athletics Championship in Wuhan. Naturally, expectations of a medal in Rio, weren’t unreasonable.
Luka toiled to merit those expectations. Born in Valathode, a small village in the Kannur district of Kerala, Luka completed her education from St Thomas High School in Karikkottakary and began training under Usha at the PT Usha School of Athletics in 2001. Her routine since then has been demanding, to say the least.
There have been days of scarcity and financial distress as well. While Luka was away for the London Olympics, her family had to remain in a relative’s house at Iritty to watch her on television. The village had been swept by torrential rains resulting in power disruption and a transport crisis.
It was Luka’s sacrifices – staying away from home during Christmas, for Decembers were always a time for competitions – that saw them move to a more decent two-storey house in January, 2015.
But as her mother, Lissy laments, “Tintu has been so focused on her training that she has not been able to stay with us in the new house. She has come here just thrice, and had to leave hurriedly each time.”
Gearing up for the ultimate showdown at Rio 2016, Luka knew it was going to be her best chance at securing a prestigious Olympic medal. At 27, the national record-holder in the women’s 800 metre race is at the prime of her career, and with a legendary personality as her personal trainer, a failure would be too much of a letdown.
However, on August 17, it became clear that an Olympic medal was not to be. During the third heat of the women’s 800m, Luka took an early lead in the race only to fall behind in the second lap onward to ultimately finish sixth with a timing of 2:00:58. Consequently, she failed to reach the semi-finals of the event.
The fact that Luka could not add to Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu’s tally will probably be forgotten soon, more because her failure hadn’t been as excruciating as Usha’s. She had been defeated convincingly by the others and that is perhaps what makes her case far less agonizing in a campaign that has witnessed Abhinav Bindra and Dipa Karmakar flirting with destiny before ending up fourth in their respective competitions.
As for the girl concerned, only time will reveal what the future has in store.
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