| Anju Bobby George with coach and husband Bobby George in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)
New Delhi: Long jump star Anju Bobby George, who became the first Indian to win a medal in the World Athletics Championships, when she won bronze in Paris last month, has urged Indian youngsters to gun for glory and requested the authorities to do their bit.
“Except for the US and a few other countries, rest of the medal winners in Paris were from underdeveloped countries in the Caribbean and Africa. If I can do 6.74m in India twice, you too can,” Anju said at an impressive felicitation organised by the Amateur Athletic Federation of India.
“Believe in what you are doing and victory is a sure possibility,” said Anju.
Requesting the authorities to support all Indian athletes in their bid to excel at next year’s Olympics, Anju said: “With hardly 11 months to go, I request the authorities to grant all the support for the athletes.”
Thanking her countrymen for their prayers and well wishes, she dedicated the country’s first ever medal in the Championships to her fellow Indians.
“I feel proud and happy to become the first Indian to win a medal in a World Athletics Championships. I am proud that I could represent India and deliver my best,” Anju said.
Anju’s husband and coach Bobby George, also a former national triple jump champion and younger brother of legendary volleyball star Jimmy George, said he was proud of Anju.
“Anju is more confident now. I urge the people to stay with us as we will take you to the podium (in the Olympics),” Bobby said.
Anju said Indian athletes had the calibre to make it big at the world level but lacked top class exposure.
“We only lack in exposure. Infrastructure is the another thing we have to improve, otherwise we have the calibre to compete with the best,” she said.
The tall Malayali said her experience has shown athletics could be as rewarding as any other sport.
“Definitely, people like Maurice Greene and Maria Matuola earn in crores, so why can’t we'
“I am the first professional athlete from India but I am sure there are many more out there who can make it even better,” Anju said.
She said the task of bridging the gap between the Indian and world levels was going to be difficult for any aspiring youngster.
“To reach that (world) level, one should compete more and more in the European circuit, gain more Grand Prix points and improve the ranking.
“Then you qualify for the world events and when you become the best twelve or seven, you start making money,” Anju said.
The year has been a watershed for Anju. She won a bronze at the Manchester Commonwealth Games — another first by an Indian woman — and a gold medal at the Busan Asian Games. But it was the training under legendary American Mike Powell and participation in top European events that opened Anju’s eyes to the world.
“The training methods are almost similar there in the us, but Powell was a great motivating factor. He played more of the role of a psychologist than a trainer,” she said.
In Europe, she gained confidence with each passing event. She was initially awe-struck by just looking at the foreign athletes, then as she began to match their performance, her spirits began to soar.
“Now, they are taking notice that an Indian can also compete with them,” she said, grinning broadly.
Anju said the bronze in Paris meant she had achieved her objective for this year. “I wanted to win a medal and I have done that,” she said.
Asked if she did not aim to cross seven metres, which she had said as her next goal after winning the Busan gold, she said, “That is still my goal, but what is the point in doing seven metres without winning a medal'”
AAFI president Suresh Kalmadi said it was a proud moment for all Indians. “Anju will forever be the role model,” Kalmadi said while also praising other Indian athletes for the superb performance last year. “As many as 10 Indian athletes were in the world ranking last year,” he said.
Kalmadi also gave away the AAFI cash award of Rs 5 lakh to Anju and Rs 1 lakh to Bobby.