August 30, 2003! This date sure rings a bell. Almost a decade ago, it was on this day that Anju Bobby George etched her name in the history of Indian athletics. With a jump of 6.70m, she put India’s name on the world map and rightfully gained the status of a world-level athlete.
“I was quite confident going into the Worlds after winning medals in the Commonwealth (bronze) and Asian Games (gold). My life changed drastically after winning bronze in Paris. It was like a dream come true. From being an Asian athlete, I took the big leap to become a world-level athlete,” Anju recalled her experience.
This should have ideally been the turning point for athletics in the country, but in vain. Anju’s bronze-medal winning feat remains India’s solitary win at the Worlds till date. When asked what is the reason behind this medal drought, prompt came the reply from Anju: “The system! The athletes and the coaches alone can’t do anything if they are not well supported and the setup is not in place. We need to change the whole system, as they are not serious in their approach. Plus, with cases of doping emerging all over the place, it only gets tougher. We must come together and fight against these issues,” she said.
Of the 15 Indians taking part in the upcoming World Championships in Moscow, Anju feels discus thrower Vikas Gowda and walker KT Irfan stand the best chance of going all the way.
Anju feels it will take at least 15 to 20 years for India to produce consistent medal-winning athletes. And she wants to contribute to this cause. “I am planning to set up something like an academy by next year in Bangalore. It’s still in the early stages but I feel the need to do something to produce international jumpers,” she said.
And as for the ones warming up in Moscow, her message is short and crisp. “Do well, don’t worry about the medals. Just focus on bettering your performances, medals will come on their own. All the very best,” she signed off.