Monday, 30th October 2017

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When Anju defied lockdown advice with leap of faith

Former athlete recalls her tryst with history, pins olympic hope on trainees

By Madhumita Ganguly in Calcutta
  • Published 19.04.20, 2:16 AM
  • Updated 19.04.20, 2:16 AM
  • 2 mins read
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Anju Bobby George (Wikipedia)

Sportspersons can do a lot of things to ensure that they live their dream, like Anju Bobby George, who defied the doctor’s advice to leap to a bronze-medal-winning distance of 6.70m at the IAAF World Championships in Paris on August 30, 2003.

The former long-jumper remains India’s sole medallist at the athletics World Championships.

As Anju turns 43 on Sunday, locked in at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic like everyone else in the country, she looks back on her career with satisfaction. The reminiscences bring a smile to her lips.

“The memories of that day in Paris remain crystal clear… How I cherish the moment when I stood on the podium to receive the medal, how I treasure the letter of appreciation which I received from the President of India thereafter,” Anju told The Telegraph from Bangalore. “And to think that I hardly even imagined, when I landed in Paris a fortnight before the competition, that I would create history…”

Anju goes into flashback mode: “See, I was taking part in several tournaments in the lead-up to the meet. I was totally fatigued and after the last meet in Berlin, I was advised a six-week break by the doctor.

“Six weeks!!” says Anju. “That would have killed my dream. So there I was in Paris. Of the 32 athletes who had qualified for the long jump, I was ranked a not-very-promising 26th.

“However, after I reached the Village, I saw a booklet which identified me as a medal-contender. That sure did boost my confidence. I gradually returned to form in those two weeks. And on the day, I knew I had it in me to win. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Such achievements don’t come easy. But the twice Asian Games medallist (gold in Busan and silver in Doha) has been lucky to have got proper coaching at every step. That includes training from world record holder Mike Powell, whose record leap of 8.95m has stood the test of time for over 28 years.

“Amazing,” Anju says when asked about her Powell experience. “I had a month-long training with Powell in the US in 2003, ahead of Paris.

“I was having good enough training under (husband and coach) Bobby but I required some clarification regarding techniques and hence we turned to Mike.

“I polished up my technique, did speed drills and received invaluable advice. Mike is a world-record holder in my discipline. Can it get any better than to be trained by the best in the world?” she said, feeling nostalgic.

Little wonder then that Powell had to be the person who would unveil the logo of the Anju Bobby George Foundation in Bangalore in 2016.

Does she have any regrets?

“Only one. Missing out on an Olympic medal in Athens.”

All that behind her, her focus is now on the Anju Bobby George Foundation which trains women athletes.

“We identify talented 12-18-year-olds from across the country and groom them. Now we have 13 athletes under our wings. Among them is Shaili Singh, the world No. 1 in the under-16 long jump category.”

Last September, the Foundation got a grant of Rs 5 crore from the government to lay a synthetic track.

There’s one more dream that Anju has. “That at least one of my wards wins an Olympic medal.”

Much of her hope also rests on her two children, a boy and a girl, who are 9 and 6, respectively. “With both my and Bobby’s genes, I do hope they realise their mother’s unfulfilled dream,” she laughs.

As for being under ‘house arrest’ now, “All for our health. And this too shall pass,” says the ace athlete as she prepares to celebrate not only her birthday, but also her anniversary (April 24), under lockdown, praying for a better world tomorrow.