CHENNAI: In an Indian context, the women's long jump has long been the pied piper among all athletics disciplines. At a time when finishing in the top three even in the heats of various events was a pipe dream, Anju Bobby George showed what was possible in the discipline. Global medals, including a gold at the World Athletics Final (a defunct meet), fired the imagination. Yet, her 6.83m, a national record she set at the 2004 Olympics, has never really been challenged.
Until Sunday. Aishwarya B, who will be taking part in the triple jump final on Monday, set a new personal best of 6.73m. It was the best ever jump made by an Indian athlete not named Anju (previous best was JJ Shobha's 6.66m set at the same venue in 2004).
This, of course, wasn't the first time she was competing this week. Having already made the cut in the triple jump qualification (the final is on Monday), she took part in the long jump qualification as a way to get prepared for the triple, 'her primary event', according to her coach, BP Aiyappa. "She was jumping 6.4 in practice (her previous best was 6.52m at the Open Nationals in 2021). So I knew she had it in her. But this jump was surprising. The main thing now is for her to do well in both the finals here." With the leap of 6.73m, she has qualified for both events (triple and the long jump) at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Interestingly, the pair, who are not part of the national campers, do not do any separate long jump training regimen. "Not really (training specifically for the long jump)," Aiyappa said. "Obviously something must be working because she is jumping 6.73m in the long jump," Aiyappa smiled.
The former 400m national champion decided to coach the Railways athlete in 2020 'because of her speed and explosive ability to take off the ramp'. "Her speed down the runway is something... she literally flies after take off. Her two biggest traits are her speed and explosive ability. In fact, if you see her, you will ask 'she jumps 6.7m?' She's half Anju's size." Curiously, her diet isn't what a conventional athlete would follow. "She eats home-cooked food... she isn't a foodie. She likes curd rice a lot," Aiyappa said.
Aiyappa, whose primary task now is to decide whether to keep her in the long jump or get her to focus on one of the two events, was also of the opinion that his ward, could ultimately, break the national record in both. "She can break the national record in both events, yes."
On Sunday, less than one hour after setting a personal best, she was in a recovery session at the hotel. There was no fanfare at the stadium, no sense of accomplishment. Aiyappa admitted as much. "This isn't the final so I wasn't really that excited... but now seeing you guys I'm also getting excited (he was having mixed emotions as his daughter had narrowly missed out from making the junior Worlds in the 100m hurdles earlier on Sunday)."
If she even gets remotely close to Anju's mark on Tuesday or if she wins the triple jump event on Monday, the excitement will be there. So will a sense of achievement.