Paris: Having made history with India’s first-ever medal from any global athletics event, Anju Bobby George, who won the women’s long jump bronze at the Paris World Championships Saturday, said her feat was a “gift” for her country which is yet to see an Olympic medal winning athlete.
Anju, an Asian Games gold medallist, became the first Indian ever with this honour Saturday with a leap of 6.70m, still below her national mark and personal best.
“It is a gift for India,” said the athlete emotionally as the news of her achievement was lapped up by the fans, media and sports administrators with pleasant disbelief back in her country.
But the 26-year-old Anju said she had felt “confident” right since the morning of the eventful day.
“I was feeling confident when I woke up in the morning,” she said.
She is the first Indian athlete to get a medal in championship history and she is also the first Indian senior athlete to get a medal on the global stage in more than a century.
“In fact, we were a little disappointed with the result. We were hoping for gold because we wanted to hear the Indian national anthem and make our country proud,” added her husband, coach and near-namesake Bobby George.
“One bronze medal between one billion people does not go very far, but we hope to do better at the Olympics.”
One man who is convinced that she will stand on top of the podium in Athens is the men’s long jump world record holder Mike Powell of the United States, who won the 1991 and 1993 world title.
Powell was called in to pass on his expertise to the jumper after her husband though that he didn’t have enough experience to take her as far as she was capable of going after she won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games last summer. “We needed better guidance and better facilities. We lack the facilities in India but the government has sponsored us and supported us to go elsewhere,” said George.
Powell admitted that his link to George had a bizarre beginning.
“About a year ago I saw on the internet that Mike Powell was coaching Anju, and I thought ‘Who’s that'’ I guess things were in the works. However, in the end, the contact came through a man who knew me,” recalled Powell.
“Anju came to me with a best of 6.74 m and she jumped 6.70m today (Saturday), but she has the talent to go well over 7m. She’s a natural jumper but she’s still got a long way to go with her running technique. But I’m looking forward to her winning the gold medal in Athens.”
If she does fulfil Powell’s prediction then she will top the one and only other Indian Olympic medal winner, although Indian officials themselves are not too sure of his credentials and are reluctant to claim him as one of their own.
The annals of athletics history reveal that a certain Norman Pritchard won the men’s 200 m silver medal at the 1900 Olympics. “But Pritchard was a British guy who was just travelling through India at the time and was then going onto the Olympics,” an Indian team spokesman said.
“The Olympic officials in 1900 just asked him where he had come from, he said India, and he went into the competition as an Indian.”
P.T. Usha was the last Indian to make an impact at the world level, when she narrowly missed the 400 m hurdles bronze by one-hundredth of a second at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.