The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Long-leap girl calls home with a gift
- Anju’s next target: Athens Olympics

Calcutta, Aug. 31: The last time she touched base at the cradle of Kerala’s first family of sports was to attend a golden jubilee. Few remember what Anju Bobby George had gift-wrapped for her in-laws George Joseph and Mary George, who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

Last night, she made a call to the house in north Kerala, armed with a “gift for India” that the nation of a billion has never received before.

“It is a gift for India,” Anju said of the long-jump bronze she won at the world athletic championship in Paris — a feat not even fellow Malayali P.T. Usha could pull off at the height of her glory.

“She gave us some gifts in December when she came down for the anniversary. But, of course, there cannot be any gift more precious for us than this bronze,” Joseph said from Kerala.

Twenty-hours later, the phone is still ringing at Anju’s end. “I can’t keep it down. I have lost count of the number of calls,” she told The Telegraph tonight from her room at the games village near Paris.

Fresh from the medal distribution ceremony and still bubbling with excitement, Anju recalled the moment the medal dream crystallised. “I felt what every Indian must have felt,” she said.

The call home also had a ring of confidence. “I could sense the surge of confidence when she called last night. This is the turning point that can help her achieve her big dream — a gold at Athens (the 2004 Olympics venue),” father-in-law Joseph said.

He should know. Father of the George Brothers — Kerala’s cult team made of eight siblings during the golden years of Indian volleyball — he is the patriarch of a family that has two Arjuna award winners.

His son, the legendary Jimmy George, was the youngest volleyball player to be conferred the honour in 1976 when he was 21. Jimmy was killed in an accident in Italy in 1987. But the Arjuna award returned to the family last week under a new claimant — the 26-year-old Anju, the wife of Jimmy’s brother Robert Bobby.

Bobby was standing beside Anju when she took the call tonight. To whom does she owe this triumph' “I am most grateful to Bobby,” pat came the reply.

Along with the sense of jubilation and pride, Bobby must have felt a pleasant stab of vindication, too. Back in 1998, when Bobby — a national triple jump champion — teamed up with Anju to coach her, the sports bureaucracy was not amused.

The murmurs in the locker rooms of officialdom that Bobby does not have a certificate from the National Institute of Sports strengthened the couple’s resolve to clinch an unassailable certificate. They got married in April 2000.

“You can’t ask her husband not to coach her, can you'” asked Sebastian, Bobby’s brother who himself is a reputed volleyball player, with a chuckle.

Like Bobby, Anju, too, had a shot at triple jump — and not a bad one at that. She holds the national outdoor record.

It was a golden partnership. Last year, Anju won the bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games. After the Manchester milestone, she crossed another — gold at the Busan Asian Games.

Then she set her sights on the world athletics frontier. Anju, along with Bobby, took off for the US to train under world champion Mike Powell.

Powell has a spectacular result to show now but Anju’s career-best of 6.74 metres — a national record — in 2001 was achieved under Bobby. Yesterday, she clocked 6.70 metres.

Tonight, all three — Anju, Bobby and Powell — are going out to have dinner together to celebrate. Anju is not sure of the menu — shortlisted by friends — but she knows it is Indian, though she “likes everything”.

When will she make that trip back home' “September 15.” That is a day after a world athletics meet at Monaco — her next battlefield — draws to a close.

There are a handful of events later this year. And after that' Athens.

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