After 40 years, an Olympics without Kerala women

V K Vismaya
V K Vismaya narrowly missed out on an Olympic berth. File photo: R S Gopan

For the first time in over 40 years, an Indian Olympic contingent will be without a Malayali woman sportsperson when the Games begin in Tokyo on July 23.

Since the 1980 edition held in Moscow that was the first of yesteryear star P T Usha's four Olympic appearances, at least one Malayali female athlete had featured in the quadrennial event. In the previous Olympics held at Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Kerala track and field athletes Tintu Luka, Jisna Mathew, Anilda Thomas and O P Jaisha had represented India.

That pattern, however, will be broken this term as of the nine Malayalees who have qualified for various Olympic events, there is no woman athlete.

P T Usha
P T Usha has been India's most prolific athlete. Photo: Manorama Archives

“It is quite sad,” said Usha, who had missed out on an Olympic podium finish in the 1984 Los Angeles Games by 1/100th of a second when she ended up fourth in 400m hurdles. “The competition schedule of athletes was disrupted by COVID-19. Staying fit and training is different from taking part in competitions and unfortunately, the chances were limited for most of the athletes due to the pandemic,” said Usha.

Kerala women have traditionally dominated track & field events in the country and to date 18 of them have competed in the Olympics. Former table tennis star Radhika Suresh, who competed in the Atalanta Games in 1996, is the only Malayalee female Olympian outside the domain of track & field.

Radhika Suresh
Paddler Radhika Suresh competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Photo: Manorama Archives

At least three Malayalee woman athletes were in the race for qualification for the Tokyo Games that was postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic. Usha's trainee Jisna Mathew, 2018 Asian Games 4x400m relay gold medallist V K Vismaya and middle-distance runner P U Chithra were expected to make the cut. While Jisna, troubled by a strained muscle, failed to maintain form, a nagging injury had ruined Vismaya's chances and Chithra narrowly missed out.

Kerala could still take solace in the fact that Tamil Nadu-born fencer C A Bhavani Devi, who will be competing in the women's sabre event, had represented the state in the last National Games.

Tokyo 2020
The logo of Tokyo 2020 is displayed at the National Stadium, main venue for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo on July 7, 2021. Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP

The Kerala men who will be appearing in Tokyo are P R Sreejesh (hockey), Sajan Prakash (swimming), M Sreeshankar (long jump), K T Irfan (20km race walk), Jabir M P (400m hurdles), Muhammed Anas (4x400m relay), Amoj Jacob (4x400m relay), Nirmal Noah Tom (4x400m relay), and Alex Antony (4x400m mixed relay).

Another Kerala male athlete, Sidhartha Babu, will make his Olympic debut in shooting at the Paralympics that will also be held in Tokyo between August 25 and September 6.

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