25 year-old Anju Bobby George created history in August this year when she won a bronze medal in the long jump event of the World Athletic Championships at Paris. She thus became the first Indian to win a medal in athletics at any world event. Anju had previously won a medal at the Commonwealth Games and a gold at the Busan Asiad Games.
Daughter of K.T. Markose and Gracy, hailing from Changanassery in Kerala, Anju is married to Bobby George, a former national triple jump champion. Bobby, who is the younger brother of legendary Volleyball player Jimmy George - who tragically died in a road accident in Italy in the 1980s, also doubles as Anju’s coach and confidant.
Anju’s tryst with jumping seems to have begun even before she was born. Her mother confides that Anju would jump and kick when she was carrying baby, and she was confident that her child would grow up to be a champion athlete. Her father would drag Anju and her younger brother from bed and take them for training at a nearby ground in Changanassery. While her brother gave up, Anju began loving the grind, and was influenced by Thomas, a much respected athletics coach from Kottayam. She has not looked back ever since, studying at the Kesavan Memorial High School and then at Vimla College in Thrissur, winning athletic honours for both, and then representing Calicut University, Kerala and India.
Her mother, Gracy spends her time in prayer, whenever Anju takes part in a competition, pleading God to grant her daughter the success that she deserves.
Working with the Chennai Customs as a Preventive Officer, Anju at first trained with T.P. Ouseph, a well-known long jump coach. But her career took an about turn when she married Bobby, who also works with Chennai Customs. An engineer, Bobby studied biomechanics and the finer points of athletics training so that he could help Anju realize her dream of becoming the top long jumper in the world. She gave up triple jumps to concentrate on sprints – to improve her run-up - and long jumps. Her schedule is so planned that she peaks at the time of the Athens Olympic Games in August 2004.
One of Anju’s lucky breaks came when she was picked by Mike Powell, the champion long jumper to train at his academy in California. Bobby says that Powell was able to smoothen the rough edges in her run-up and jump and that has helped her achieve a better distance consistently.
Besides her parents’ love for sport, Anju is lucky she is married into a family where sport is a religion. Bobby’s father, Joseph is a Volleyball fan and is said to have constructed a court in the backyard so that his seven sons could practice. His son, Jimmy brought him fame when he captained India and later played as a professional in Europe. “My heart broke when Jimmy died in a car accident,” says Joseph. ‘Anju, my daughter-in-law has given me a reason to smile again. She has brought glory to India and I am sure she will win a gold medal at Athens.”
With a string of excellent performances in international events and some encouraging jumps which measure up to world standards, during training sessions, Anju George is all set to create history at the Athens Olympics in 2004. She had qualified for the Sydney Olympics in 2000 but had to quit the Indian squad because of a bad ankle injury. Her Indian fans will wait with baited breath this time round for the long jump event to begin at Athens. And her mother will spend time in the neighbourhood Church, praying for her daughter’s success!