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Those LOOOOONG legs

It's a good thing that Bobby is my coach because with anybody else I would have been more self-conscious.

Anju with husband Bobby George: confident of a gold — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

THE LONG-LEGGED lady is on a golden run. Anju Bobby George, who bagged her first Grand Prix gold at the Doha meet in early May, is confident of bringing back a gold from the Athens Olympics. She has already made history by winning the bronze in long jump at the World Championships in Paris in 2003, the first Indian to win a medal at a world athletics championship. Achieving international excellence has meant working against the odds and Anju has often railed against lack of sponsors and little support from the government.

The 27-year-old Anju grew up in a small town in Kerala and was initiated into athletics by her father. She began by winning school athletics meets and was first noticed at the National School Games where she won the hurdles and relay events. At college, she was the Calicut University champion.

Despite her father's role in kindling her interest in sports, it is her husband and coach Bobby George whom she recognises as her biggest influence. Bobby is himself a former national champion in long jump but gave up his career to train Anju full-time.

As Anju leaves for the round of international events leading up to the actual meet in Athens, she carries with her the hopes of a nation which has already seen the coveted medal slip through its fingers by a fraction earlier. Metroplus caught up with Anju on the eve of her departure for the Olympics 2004.

What's the hardest thing about being an athlete from India?

It's a hurdle to be from India. You have to fight for everything. Every single thing is a fight. This is a developing country, there are such a large number of people and the authorities cannot provide for everything.

Are things getting better though, in terms of facilities and sponsorship for sports?

Yes, they are getting better. But very slowly.

Most international athletes seem to have a killer instinct and become monsters on the field, but we look at Anju Bobby George she seems so soft. Is this a disadvantage in professional, highly competitive sport?

Yes there is a killer instinct in other athletes, but we are from India and cannot act the same way they do, in public. And there is no need to act like them either.

Bobby: For a seven-metre jump there is no need to act like a monster. Maybe for eight metres, there would be!

What kind of personality do you need to have to succeed as a sportsperson?

Well, you need to be really tough.

And have the killer instinct we spoke about earlier... ?

You need to be tough only on the field. My real-life personality is very different. Imagine if I had that killer personality in day-to-day events (laughs).

So what's your real-life personality like?

Well, I don't have a killer instinct! I only get really angry if things are not clean. I like everything to be really clean and tidy otherwise there's trouble. And also straightforward. I like things above board.

Has there been a big change in you since you became this well known and successful?

Earlier, I was very shy. I would never be able to do some of the things I can do now. I didn't like to address gatherings. But now I've gained a lot of confidence, and not just in sports.

Your husband Bobby George is also your coach. How does this relationship work? Isn't it hard to balance a personal and professional relationship?

It's a good thing that Bobby is my coach because with someone else I wouldn't have been able to talk openly. It would have been very difficult and I would be self-conscious about everything. But with Bobby I can share everything. He knows me very well, and that helps. This is not like an office job where you may bring your problems home. Sports is our passion, both at home and on the field.

Sometimes after a jump, you glance at Bobby. Are you actually communicating or do you look for reassurance?

Yes, I do always look at Bobby. After a jump I need to know how I have done. I can make out his signals. Sometimes he has a single sign about my jump that I can understand.

What goes on in your mind those crucial moments when you are running up take a jump?

Nothing. I'm not thinking at all. My mind is a complete blank. I'm only thinking about the distance.

It's an intensely competitive environment on the field. How do you keep your cool?

On the field you shouldn't listen to the noise and all the shouting. You should be really focussed. It is really difficult. Like when Eunice (French athlete Eunice Barber jumped to 6.99 m to win the women's long jump at the World Championships in Paris last year, triggering a collective hysteria in the packed stadium) was jumping, there was so much noise from the whole audience. They were all shouting for her. Even in Athens, it will be like that. They will all be cheering the Greek athletes. But you can't let that affect you.

How do you train your concentration? Do you do yoga?

No, I don't do yoga or anything. I just watch movies — I love adventure movies and Malayalam movies. It's in my personality to stay calm, I suppose.

Did you always know you would be this successful? Was it a childhood dream?

Well, we have been trying to reach this position for a very long time. We have always been trying very hard. It has been a dream for a long time now.


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