| Anju Bobby George qualifies for the long jump finals at the Olympic Games in Athens. (AFP)
Athens/Kottayam, Aug. 26: Every Indian is holding his breath, but Anju Bobby George is relaxed.
Hours after her stunning 6.69-metre leap took her to the women’s long jump finals, the Kerala girl showed no sign of nerves that she would be taking on more fancied rivals.
“I am not worried that I will be competing against the likes of Marion Jones. That is a part of Olympic competition,” Anju said after her qualifying jump.
Her “objective” was to make it to the Friday finals, “the first step”, as she called it. “I just played it safe and jumped from a little behind. I did not stretch myself much, did not go for distance.”
Back home in Peravur, a small village in north Kerala’s Kannur district, Anju’s father-in-law George Joseph said the long jumper oozed confidence. He told local reporters that Anju and her husband and coach Bobby George called before the qualifying round. Asked if she was tense, Anju had replied: “The entire nation was tense, in fact more tense than me.”
After she qualified, Anju — the first Indian since P.T. Usha ran the 400 m hurdles and led the 4x400 m relay team to the final at the 1984 Los Angeles Games — said she is “happy” to have made it to the final round, where the “real competition” will come. “I am just preparing myself for it. There I will try to give my best.”
Her best is what Peravur is also hoping for. And the hope has bridged faiths. Priests led prayers in churches and devotees made special floral offerings in temples while small groups knelt in mosques.
Vicar Sebastian Joseph led the parishioners of the Forane church in saying the holy mass. A special commemorative service was held at the tomb of Anju’s brother-in-law, the legendary volleyball player Jimmy George, at the church cemetery. George Joseph and his wife Mary led the congregation at the village church.
V.V. Kunhiraman, a former team mate of the late Jimmy George, held a special puja at a temple and sent the prasadam by courier to the house of Anju’s husband.
In Changanacherry, Kottayam, Anju’s mother Gracy Markose said the “entire nation is praying” for the long jumper. “I am sure God will listen to the prayers.”
The St Adai’s Jacobite Church, her home parish, will conduct a special mass on Friday.
The entire village is tense. “We have not been able to sleep for days. We are waiting for the final jump on Friday to relieve our tension,” said Sister Gracelin, the headmistress of Lisieux P School, where Anju studied up to Class IV.
Far away in Athens, Anju appeared relaxed. “The feeling is easy,” she said. “I hope to definitely improve on my qualifiers’ showing in the final.”