Usha, 58, was officially elected for the top post during the polls, heralding in a new chapter in Indian sports administration.
“In my whole life I had lived just 13 years without sports. Otherwise I have been living with sports, as an athlete, coach and administrator in different roles,” she said while addressing a press conference after her elevation to the top job.
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“I had never thought that I would one day become IOA chief or member of Parliament. This is all because of my sport,” she said with her entire executive council members by her side.
Usha took to athletics at a young age of nine while she was studying in class four at a school at Payyoli near her native village in Kozhikode district of Kerala. What followed was a stellar career during which she won multiple Asian Games gold medals and achieved a fourth place finish in the 1984 Olympics 400m hurdles final.
She announced her retirement in 1990, got married and returned to the tracks again in 1994 before finally quitting athletics in 2000.
That initial nine years of her childhood and four years between 1990 and 1994 was the 13 years she was referring to. After 2000, she remained associated with athletics as mentor to promising athletes at her academy — Usha School of Athletics.
She is currently the chairperson of its junior selection committee. She has also served in national award committees of the government.
“The national federations, the Athletes Commission and SOMs (Sportspersons of Outstanding Merit) pushed me to file nomination papers for the president’s post. I am thankful to all of them,” said Usha, who is also the first Olympian to head the IOA.
“I was earlier not close to IOA and federation (AFI) but now I have come (become IOA chief) because all our sportspersons want to. There are also many sportspersons in the executive committee. I am very happy about that.”
She said the IOA will work as a unit and her organisation will be accessible to the federations, athletes and coaches.
“Me and my team, with collective effort, will do our best to work for the betterment of sports in the country. We will take opinions of federations, athletes and coaches and we will work together to bring more medals for our country.
“Only sportspersons know how tough it is to come from lower levels and win international medals. We will work for the athletes only.”
Usha, fondly known as the ‘Payyoli Express’, is being seen as a candidate of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which had nominated her as a Rajya Sabha member in July.
She also became the first Olympian and first international medallist to head the IOA in its 95-year-old history, adding another feather to her cap after dominating Indian and Asian athletics for two decades before retiring in 2000 with a bagful of international medals.
Usha is the first sportsperson to have represented the country and also become IOA chief since Maharaja Yadavindra Singh, who played a Test match in 1934. Singh was the third IOA president who held office from 1938 to 1960.