With Saina Nehwal and Sania Mirza taking Indian sports to newer heights, it is a good time to have a look at one of India’s torchbearers of athletics. Long jump queen Anju Bobby George turns 38 today. With multiple achievements that include a bronze medal at the prestigious World Championships, Anju held the mantle of Indian athletics for a long time.
On Anju’s birthday, Sports Rediscovered pays a tribute to a woman who enshrined her name in Indian track and field history.
Young Anju Bobby George spotted at National School Games
A resident of Kottayam, Kerala, Anju grew up to be India’s brightest hope in track and field since the days of the legendary PT Usha. The fledgling talent was nurtured into a champion by her father KT Markos and her school trainer and it was the National School Games where she was spotted for the first time.
Starting out as a heptathlete, the lanky Anju found her calling in the jump events. At the age of 19, the Kerala athlete caught everybody’s attention with her medal-winning effort at the Delhi Junior Asian Championship in 1996.
Making a mark in the international circuit
The diligent track and field athlete soon embarked on a journey of worldwide fame and glory. With a national record in triple jump and a couple of gold medals at the National Games, she started making rapid strides on the international circuit as well.
At the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002, Anju soared to a height of 6.49m to grab the bronze. The ever-improving Indian girl did even better at the Busan Asian Games that same year. Anju outshone everybody else to clinch the coveted gold with a distance of 6.53m.
The historic bronze at the Paris World Championships
2003 was annus mirabilis for the Kerala long jumper. It was a year that saw Anju Bobby George put Indian athletics on the world map. On a cold and rainy evening in Saint Denis near Paris, Anju leapt into history as she became the first Indian athlete ever to clinch a medal at the elite World Athletics Championships. The 6.70m jump ensured she would finish with a bronze.
The long jump queen had been putting up commendable performances on the European circuit throughout that year which saw her shoot up to a world ranking of 6th in 2003. Much of her success can be attributed to her husband and coach Robert Bobby George, a former National triple jump champion himself. Thanks to his meticulous planning and unflinching support, Anju started conquering unprecedented heights.
A training stint with the world record holder, Mike Powell just before the World Championships proved fruitful. Powell helped to improve her runway technique and the result was for all to see.
5th place at 2004 Athens Olympics
With Anju in her prime, hopes were high at the 2004 Athens Olympics. She delivered her personal best performance with a distance of 6.83m. However, it could only give her a sixth-place finish. She eventually moved up a rung higher after Marion Jones of the USA was disqualified.
Till today, this stands as the Indian national record.
Anju’s World Athletics Final gold ratified
The Indian star had another feather in her cap – claiming the gold at the IAAF World Athletics Final in 2005, an accomplishment she considers her best. But the first place finish came in unusual circumstances.
She had originally ended in the second place at the prestigious meet behind Tatyana Kotova of Russia. Following Kotova testing positive for formestane, the Russian was disqualified and Anju’s silver was upgraded to gold, nine years later.
“At last it has come. I have been waiting for it for nine years. It really feels like justice. For those three years — 2003, 04 and 05, I was one of the best in the world. I knew everyone ahead of me was doing it (doping), but I was helpless because I couldn’t prove it. I always had my doubts about Kotova,” Anju said after the long wait for justice.
Anju thus became the first Indian athlete to win a gold medal in World Athletics Final.
Anju and Robert look to groom talents
Thanks to such a glittering career, Anju Bobby George is definitely one of the biggest icons of Indian sports. Her excellence in her field brought her the Arjuna Award, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award as well as the Padma Shri.
With such expertise in athletics, there can be no better person than Anju Bobby George to groom India’s future. Today, the long jump doyenne is aiming to set up an academy in Bangalore where Anju and her husband Robert will both be actively involved in training youngsters.
Sports Rediscovered salutes this Indian long jump pioneer. May she continue to inspire generations.