We all know of emerging women athletes such as Dipa Karmakar, Sakshi Malik and Deepa Malik, who are taking Indian sports to newer heights and are leaving no stone unturned in bringing laurels to the country. Their latest achievements being conferred with the Padma Shri Medal. However, many of us have forgotten about the birthday girl, Anju Bobby George, India’s very own long Jump Champion, who turns 40 today. Hence, it is only befitting to relive the glory of a woman whose name has gone down in history as the ‘Greatest Indian athlete’ of all time.
Small town girl starts early
Hailing from the village of Changanassery taluk, Kottayam, Kerala, she was introduced to athletics by her father, K.T. Markose. Her interest in athletics was further inculcated by her coach at Koruthode School. In the school athletics meet of 1991-92, she became the women’s champion by winning 2 events and finishing second in two others. Her talent was first noticed in the national school games where she won third place in 100 m hurdles and 4×100 m relay.
Budding talent meets the right eyes
Anju started off with Heptathlon but later started concentrating on Jump Events. At the age of 19, Anju Bobby George’s hard work was finally rewarded as she won a long jump medal in the 1996 Delhi junior Asian championship. In 2001, she won gold for Triple Jump and Long Jump in the Ludhiana National Games. Anju reigned supreme in her events in the Hyderabad National games also.
Anju stamps her authority in the International Arena
Riding high on her success back home, Anju kick started her international career with a bronze medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. She covered a distance of 6.49 metres. Soon after her first medal, she soared to a height of 6.53 m to win the elusive gold medal at the 200 Busan Asian Games.
In the 2003 at the Paris World Championship, Anju created history by winning the bronze medal as she leapt a distance of 6.70 m and with that, she become the first Indian athlete ever to win a medal in a World Championships in Athletics. Ever since the historic win, there was no stopping her as a legend in the making had just stamped her authority in the International circuit.
In the same year, Anju won her career’s second gold medal at the 2003 Afro-Asian Games. Her Jump of 6.53m assured a convincing gold medal over Lerma Gabito (Philippines), who could only manage 6.30m.
A year later at the 2004 Athens Olympics, despite delivering her best performance with a distance of 6.83m, Anju could only manage a 5th place finish after the disqualification of American Marion Jones.
In September 2005, Anju won the coveted gold medal in the women’s long jump at the 16th Asian Athletics Championship in Incheon City of South Korea with a leap of 6.65 metres.
Hungry for more medals, Anju’s determination and will power for victory was contagious. She added another feather to her cap as she went on to win the Gold medal at the IAAF World Athletics Final in 2005 with a leap of 6.75 m, a performance she considers her best.
She won silver medal in women’s long jump in 15th Asian Games, 2006 held at Doha. In 2007, Anju won silver medal in 17th Asian Athletics Championship at Amman (Jordan) with a jump of 6.65m and this qualified her for Osaka World Championship in August 2007 where she finished 9th.
Statistical comparison of the achievements of Anju Bobby George, Milkha Singh and PT Usha
Anju Bobby George’s achievements are often over-shadowed by the number of medals won by two other Indian greats namely, Milkha Singh and P.T. Usha. It is very interesting to notice that ‘The Flying Sikh’ of India, Milkha Singh has had most of his success in Asian Games and ‘The Payyoli Express’, P.T. Usha, has won all her medals in Asian Games as well. On the other hand, Anju Bobby George has had a greater reach of medals in terms of international competitions as she has won various medals in 5 different competitions.
As the statistics suggests, Anju Bobby George has won 7 medals across 5 different major competitions. On the contrary, P.T. Usha, who has won the highest medal tally among the three greats, and Milkha Singh, have won majority of their medals in Asian Games.
These stats speak volumes of the mental strength possessed by Anju Bobby George and her ability to only perform but win big consistently on big stages.
Fight for justice
In a recent development, Anju Bobby George will launch a bid to claim 2004 Athens Olympics Medal. Anju, who finished 5th on the night despite her best effort of 6.83m, claims that she has been “robbed” of an Olympic medal by drug cheats. Even though the medallists in the women’s long jump event at Athens, Tatyana Lebedeva (gold), Irina Simagina (silver) and Tatyana Kotova (bronze), passed the dope tests at the time, they have subsequently failed tests in other competitions. Anju has revealed that she, along with the two-other deserving medallists, Australia’s Bronwyn Thompson and Britain’s Jade Johnson, are hoping to enlist the support of their national Olympic bodies to put up a united front in front of International Olympic Committee (IOC) and are bidding to get justice.
These malpractices bring bad name to the sport and the deserving athletes should be rewarded.
Post career life
Anju is married with two kids to Robert Bobby George, former National Champion in triple jump and her coach too. She is employed with the Central Board of Excise and Customs, Customs department in Bangalore.
The ace athlete was appointed as president of the Kerala State Sports Council (KSSC). She resigned from the post on 22 June 2016. She is currently the Chairperson of TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme) and is also the Executive member of Khelo India project instituted by the Government of India.
She has been an inspiration for numerous small town girls who have mustered enough courage to break the shackles of social barriers and do their country proud in various fields. We hope that she continues the good work with her husband and produce many more champions like her.