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In pursuit of excellence

If you thought Indian athletes are not strong enough to win medals in international events, think again. Anju George lifted the spirits of sports lovers by bagging the gold in the long jump at the Busan Asian Games, writes V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM.

Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

GOLDEN GIRL: Anju George was a source of inspiration.

SHE LIFTED the spirits of a despondent Indian contingent with her gold medal in the long jump in the Busan Asian Games last week. That was just when the big question was being asked everywhere in the Asiad Village, right from the IOA chief, Suresh Kalmadi, to the fan in the street — what is happening to Indians? This charming girl from Tamil Nadu provided the spark of brilliance which fetched her a maiden and memorable gold in the international meet and at the same time provided inspiration for others to shrug off the sluggishness and turn in one of the most splendid performances ever in Asian Games athletics competitions. That golden girl is Anju George.

Ironically, this 25-year-old outstanding athlete is now hunting for corporate sponsorships. The reason: "Well, I am seriously planning to undergo long duration training in the United States to realise my dream of winning a medal in the next year's World Championship," says Anju in a chat with The Hindu MetroPlus at the Lal Bahadur Stadium during the recently-held Central Revenue South Zone sports meet.

"We need about Rs. 35 lakhs for the purpose. I don't think I need a foreign coach for my event. My husband, Bobby George, can handle the job equally efficiently for my future assignments too," she said to a query. "But, there is a need to study in detail and know first-hand the multi-faceted training programmes. Generally, Indians are never short of talent. What most of them basically lack are the required levels of physical conditioning, technique and the exposure to big meets," she pointed out. Did any corporate group come forward? "Not really, the process has just started. And I openly appeal to the sports-loving industrialists to think positively on this front," she remarked.

Looking back at the Busan Asiad show where her effort of 6.53 m fetched the gold on her fifth attempt, Anju said once she won the Commonwealth Games bronze in Manchester recently, she got the necessary confidence. "The competition there is world class for you have the Olympic medallist, the world champion and quite a few record holders. It is not an easy job out there to win the medal. So, that bronze gave me immense satisfaction. In the Asiad, it is comparatively easier," says Anju George, who significantly also reveals that there were absolutely no special training sessions before the Asiad. "It was just normal programme with Bobby being the guiding spirit," she added.

"Personally, I think the gold in Busan could not have come at a more appropriate time. After two years of frustration because of ankle injury, during which I had almost thought of quitting, this performance clearly made me set new targets," Anju recalls. "Full credit goes to Bobby who always presented a rosy picture ahead of me even in moments of despair. That was the phase when I missed the Sydney Olympics, the ATF and the World Championship," she said. `You can always do better', were the constant words of encouragement. And that's what exactly she has done in Busan Asian Games.

For someone who has lost count of the number of gold won at the national level, Anju gives credit for her current stature to her father K.T. Markose who saw to it that his daughter was trained in athletics since she was a class V student by her first coach Welcy. What was relevant is that she started focussing on long and the triple jumps since 1996 and more on the former since 2000. She cherishes the short conversation with one of her idols P.T. Usha, who was in Busan as one of the selectors (the other being Marion Jones). "I don't promise that I will win a medal," Anju told Usha before the event. Pat came the reply from Indian legend: "No, no. You can win a gold and you should be back with that only." And, the first one to greet Anju was Usha herself, recalls the gold medallist who defied bad weather, a track which was not up to the mark and had no reaction.

Interestingly, all that Anju could say on the doping controversy is she cannot speak for others but can assure that she will be absolutely clean in her pursuit of excellence. Anju George is certainly enjoying the accolades and the media glare after her stupendous performance. She is particularly grateful to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa, for presenting cash incentives of Rs. 10 lakhs for the Commonwealth Games bronze and Rs. 20 lakhs for the Busan Asiad gold. An interesting sidelight which could well project her mental toughness was the fact that she heard the demise of her grandmother just after the Busan Asiad had begun and she was in no position to reach home. "I badly missed her. I had just to pray to the Almighty to pay my last respects to her," said an emotional Anju George.

If the Hyderabadis hope to see this gangling athlete to regale them with her famous jumps in the December National Games, they might just be disappointed. "I have not yet made up my mind. There is no serious practice as of now. Too busy with the hectic schedule of the felicitations," Anju remarked. She signed off with special thanks to the Sports Authority of India staff at the Bangalore Southern Centre for their excellent cooperation in her training schedules. Well, she is determined to make a mark beyond the Asian Continent!

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