P T Usha narrowly missed a medal and history at the Los Angeles Olympics when she finished fourth in 400m hurdles but such was the Indian legend's aura that the eventual gold medallist, Nawal El Moutawakel, on Sunday revealed that she too ended up crying for the heartbroken 'Payyoli Express' that day.
Moutawakel was the first Muslim-born woman from Africa to clinch an Olympic gold in athletics by finishing on top in 400m hurdles. Moutawakel's medal had such impact at that time that the King of Morocco declared that girls born on the day she won the Olympic gold would be named in her honour.
But the legendary athlete said, for all the joy that she felt for herself, she could not help shedding tears for her friend.
"My association with Indian athletes started with P T Usha. I was in complete admiration for her. She proved what she was capable of time and again," Moutawakel, who is here for the Laureus World Sports Awards, said.
Moutawakel said she and Usha were close friends and she could relate to the pain Usha felt on missing what would have been a historic feat for Indian athletics.
"That day as much as I was happy for myself, I was sad for her because we come from countries where athletics is not that big. When she came fourth, I cried so hard. I really wanted her to be on the podium. I wanted to win but I also wanted her to win along with me," she said.
The 49-year-old, who is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, said she continues to admire the Indian even though the two have lost touch over the years.
"She has done a lot for Indian athletics. I know that she created her own foundation to groom athletes. The work that she is doing is admirable," she said.
Moutawakel said she even met some Indian athletes at the Asian Games last year and was impressed with the talent on display compared to the time she was an active hurdler.
"I happened to meet a few Indian athletes in Guangzhou during the Asian Games. They looked so strong and fit. Their eyes were full of hope. I can see the progress," she said.
The International Olympic Committee member said the good performance of Indian athletes in recent multi-sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games was a sign of the improving standards in track and field events.
"Indian sports has proved that with a little help to athletes, they can do well. The women especially are doing very well," she said.