Bobby met Anju for the first time at the Sports Authority of India stadium in Bangalore in 1996.
At 9 pm, on Saturday, August 30, 2003, the weather in Paris was cool, thanks to a slight drizzle. About 80,000 spectators at the Stade De France were watching the long jump finals of the world athletics championships. In the stands was Bobby George, the husband and coach of Anju.
In the first jump, Anju shot into the lead with a leap of 6.61m. But in the second round, she came third. In the fourth, she had a huge jump. “It was probably close to 7 metres, and would have won her the gold,” says Bobby. Unfortunately, while the first official raised the white flag saying the jump was legal, a second official noticed that the marker was slightly disturbed, and raised the red jump. So, it was a no-jump.
“At this level of competition, if you take an early lead and then lose it, athletes tend to give up, feeling dejected,” says Bobby. “But I told Anju to stay strong. I could see from the look on her face that she was not ready to give up.”
Just before the fifth jump, Bobby told Anju to jump 20 centimetres before the marker, to ensure that it is a correct leap, and to give it all she got. And Anju did just that, hitting 6.70 metres, which was enough for her to get the bronze, the first athlete in India’s sporting history to win a medal at a world championship.
“It was the greatest moment of our lives,” says Bobby. “This girl from Changanassery had made an impact on the global stage. Our journey has been a long one.”
Bobby met Anju for the first time at the Sports Authority of India stadium in Bangalore in 1996. He was a national level triple jumper, while Anju was training under veteran coach T P Ouseph, along with fellow athletes Bobby Aloysius and Lekha Thomas for the Junior Asian championships.
“It was not love at first sight,” says Bobby, from his parents’ home at Peravoor in Kannur district. The Bangalore-based couple had come to attend the 25th death anniversary function of Jimmy George, Bobby’s elder brother, the legendary volleyball player. “I don’t know how the chemistry works, but, overall, I liked her.”
And when Bobby saw her jump, he knew instinctively that she had lots of talent. They went their different ways and would meet occasionally at different meets. But when Ouseph returned to Kerala in 1998, Bobby became the full-time coach of Anju.
And over a period of time, they fell in love. Bobby got married to Anju on April 24, 2000, at St Joseph’s Church, Peravoor. “We could not go for a honeymoon, as we were both in training,” he says. Anju went on to have a stellar career: she has won medals at the Asian and Commonwealth Games, Asian Athletics Championships, Asian Indoor championships, and numerous national and international meets. She has also won the Arjuna Award and the Padma Shri.
Thanks to their intense collaboration, Bobby has a good idea about Anju’s character.
“From the very beginning, I knew she was a fighter,” he says. “Anju does not give up and has been willing to work hard. And she took the load in training without any complaints.”
Apart from that, he likes the fact that she is a dedicated homemaker and makes wonderful Kerala as well as continental dishes. “She is also a very good mother,” he says. “Our son [Aaron, 2 1/2] is very attached to her.”
But perhaps the one drawback is that Anju can be casual, at times. “She forgets many things before a competition,” he says. “I have to make a separate list for her. No matter how many times I tell her, she tends to slip up.”
If they are going to a competition where there is a possibility of rain, then they have to take two shoes, singlets, shorts, and tracksuits. “Sometimes, she is not serious about all that,” he says.
But the couple is serious about Anju making a comeback to international athletics. “She had wanted to participate at this year’s London Olympics, but got injured,” says Bobby. “We will try for one more year.”
When asked about the secret of a good marriage, Bobby says, “For a common goal, you have to shed your personal ambitions,” he says. “There has to be adjustments on both sides. In a marriage, you cannot live as individuals. You have to always work as a team.”