Calcutta: One 1998 November afternoon, in the 38th inter-state athletics championships at the Salt Lake Stadium, one Anju Markose of Tamil Nadu ran away with gold from the then Indian hope Tapasi Baur of Bengal at 6.12m in the long jump. It was a low key push into big time for the then tall, lanky girl. It was a step ahead of her fourth finish at the junior Asian meet in 1997.
Today, for Anju Bobby George, this Paris World Championships bronze probably has come as less of a surprise than the rest in the athletics clan. It is not just because she has been around the tracks and the pits since she was five, it is more of her focussed approach to the sport, her commitment to the discipline.
She was a long jumper and a triple jumper. Lekha Thomas was, before the Bangkok Games, the leader in the long jump, while Anju, it seemed, had a career in triple jump after her 13.67m at the National Games prior to that. Then Anju broke into the long jump lead and Lekha, failing again to make it to the squad, went to the sidelines.
In the 2000 nationals, Anju rewrote the long jump national record at 6.74 (which, stands still). By that time, she had already met her husband Bobby George, an ex-triple jumper himself.
She had an injury, before the Jakarta ATF camp and when she returned from the break, coaches said they were “surprised” at the change in her attitude. She was as cool and composed as ever, but her focus was clear.
When coaches studied her aptitude in the two events, they found that with her steady 6.4-6.6m and more in long jumps, she was already near medal zone of international meets. To reach medal zone in triple jump would have been way beyond normal planning. Anju and her husband dumped the triple and she became a one-discipline athlete, a rather risky proposal for field events.
Her 6.53m gold at the Busan Asian Games made her feel better, while she kept pushing at her own 6.74 national mark.
The bronze at the Manchester Commonwealth Games was a good boost, and then the Arjuna Award, which her father K.T. Markose received for her as mother Gracey Markose waited at her paternal home in Changanassery in the Kottayam district.
Anju was allowed by the nuns of Lizu School, Ithithanam, to practise in the right direction. That was before her C. K. Kesavan Memorial High School, Koruthodu, games teacher Thomas Master provided advanced jumping lessons. Off from Vimala College, she went into the coaching of jump coach T. P. Ouseph, appointed by the AAFI.
The silver (6.49m) at the Stockholm IAAF Super Grand Prix meet followed. That was one where her performance actually dipped. But the average was good enough, and her California stint with Mike Powell helped.
The rest is history for the 1.76m tall Customs employee.