Anju has big plans for Indian athletics

"Athletics, as you all know, is the mother of all sports. We have to really work hard. There are a lot of things involved. We need real talent and real support and competitive management is where we are lacking," says Anju Bobby George.

Anju Bobby George with her husband and coach Robert Bobby George and children.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

Anju Bobby George...championing the cause of Indian athletics.   -  M. Moorthy

One of the finest-ever athletes that India has produced, the 38-year-old long jumper Anju Bobby George is not resting on her laurels. The 2003 World championship bronze medallist has been working overtime to begin an academy in Bangalore, along with her husband-coach Bobby George, with the support of the Sports Authority of India. “We will start it in a month or two (October-November),” said Anju, when she made a visit to Chennai to be the chief guest at a city school’s sports meet.

“As a coach Bobby George knows what an athlete needs and as an athlete I know what an athlete requires to perform on the world stage. Together, we can do wonders,” she added.

Excerpts from an interview:

Question: Can athletes from India make a mark on the world stage?

Answer: We are not able to find big talents now. Maybe in future.

Can you please elaborate?

It is very difficult. Athletics, as you all know, is the mother of all sports. We have to really work hard. There are a lot of things involved. We need real talent and real support and competitive management is where we are lacking. We have to take part in competitions not only in India, but also overseas like Europe and for that we have to be in the top 12 in the world. To reach that level is very difficult. The bad thing is that nothing is happening. Only Vikas Gowda (shot put) is competing (regularly) in the international circuit. It’s not the practice, it’s not about the coach, competitive management is the real key. Only that part we are lacking.

What do you think of India’s chances in the Rio Olympics?

I am with the team supporting the Indian contingent both in 2016 and 2020 Olympics as a Target Olympic Podium (TOP) member. We hope we will get more medals than in previous Olympics.

What is the basis?

After the last Olympics, we are performing well in a few events. We are not sticking to one event. We are looking for multiple sporting disciplines.

You are a medal-winner at the world level. After you, there has been a drought. Why?

Doping is a big scandal. Tackling that is a very difficult part. They (doping offenders from the Western world) are all very advanced than us. If everyone was competing ‘clean’, then I should have won a medal in the 2004 Olympics.

You have seen the system. What is lacking? Is it the infrastructure, administration, or coaches?

What we are getting at SAI Bangalore is great, we can compare with any training centre in the world. We have to train hard, need a good coach and competitive management. We need good managers. The Hudson-Smith International firm, they were my managers in the USA. They did my competition management. We are training hard, but are not able to perform well on the world stage. We are trying for that (at SAI Bangalore). As a coach, Bobby George knows what an athlete needs and as an athlete I know what an athlete requires to perform on the world stage. Together, we can do wonders.

About the Academy?

We are starting an academy in a month or two (Oct-Nov ’15) and we hope to change things. There will be support staff. We are supported by the Sports Authority of India and the Government of India. Weather-wise, infrastructure-wise, our Academy will be the best. As an achiever, I know the pressure, the happiness it brings. I am supporting Bobby. My plan is that Bobby will be the Head Coach, I can support Bobby. Yes, I might travel with our wards. We will train in India and abroad. The age group we are looking at is 12-20 years.

How about the doping scandal that hit the international athletics body recently?

It was a surprising news for us. We knew that a few of our athletes were on dope. But we couldn’t talk about it as it was against the WADA code. It’s sad that we missed a lot of medals because of some athletes who were always ahead of us.

With former ace athlete Sebastian Coe at the helm of the world athletics body, do you expect something?

He’s an athlete, he knows better than anyone else about the sport and as a manager he knows a lot. He’s a really good person. We are expecting a good performance from him (as far as addressing doping issues)!

One Sports Authority of India girl athlete in Kerala committed suicide recently. You have been through the system. What is your advice to the athletes?

It’s everywhere. It’s because of a silly thing she committed suicide. We should educate them.

How can it be avoided?

Athletes should be strong, both mentally and physically.

Your take on India’s performance in the recent World Championships?

We broke quite a few national records. This is the first time a bunch of athletes are doing their best in an international meet. Normally they do well at the National-level. This is the first time they are doing their best in the Worlds.

We are happy to be in the final. Is that a good mindset?

Getting to the final in a big event where more than 200 countries are taking part and to be in the medal bracket among so many countries is very difficult.

There were reports in the media of TOP members being athletes who were receiving support from the Government. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?

As a member, I never felt anything was wrong. Abhinav (Bindra) was always supporting the athletes. He is not asking for more than the other athletes. He is an Olympic champion. And Mary Kom, an Olympic medallist, too, knows what is best for her sport.

Your contribution as a TOP member?

There are a lot of meetings. We are selecting our athletes, supporting them. It is not partial support, it’s full support.

Doping is rampant among juniors in India, where does the solution lie?

We should educate our athletes. After our active career, we have to live. The person has to decide. The athlete has to decide which way to go. Sometimes, the coaches are to be blamed and sometimes it is the athletes. We shouldn’t blame anyone blindly.

Your thoughts on Usain Bolt?

He is a big machine (laughs). (He’s) born for athletics, an extraordinary human being. You cannot compare him with anyone.

A few words on your husband and coach Bobby George?

Actually, he is from a sports family and he is a mechanical engineer. He has dedicated his full life to sports. He gives training not from the heart but from the brain. He knows me very well. He designed a training pattern only for me. I am prone to injuries on my right take-off leg. I injured my right leg when I was 19 years old. He knew how to go about it. That’s the trick.

What is the technique in long jump?

All the training is in the air. It is very difficult to execute a good jump. Every year we used to change the techniques.

How was your training with Mike Powell?

It was something different. For two months, we trained with him. Actually, it gave us the confidence. It is not possible for a normal Indian athlete. Just before the 2003 World Championship, I trained with him in the USA. The confidence I gained was unmatchable and unimaginable. Powell changed my run-way. It used to be 36m and he changed it to 44m. I thought that was a big distance, but he did not think so. When it comes to run-ways, they (Americans) are masters. It was an eye-opener for us.

An Indian athletics league could change the face of athletics in the country. But that does not seem to be happening?

There is a time for everything. This is the time for cricket. Before cricket it was athletics during P.T. Usha’s time and slowly it came to cricket, now slowly it might change.

To start an athletics league is difficult. It is expensive to hire foreign athletes. No doubt, it will definitely help Indian athletes. The Athletics Federation of India is trying. Last year they had plans but nothing happened. Hopefully, it would happen soon.

One big thing that you have changed?

We used to believe that the Asian level was everything. We used to celebrate an Asian medal like it was an Olympic gold. We set a mental barrier for ourselves. Bobby trained and motivated me.

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Star fitness mantra:

Eat well, enjoy junk food once in a while, but do exercises regularly.

Favourite automobile:

I like Benz cars. But my husband Bobby is not fond of cars.

The naughtiest thing you’ve done in your childhood:

There was a huge paddy field just opposite my house. But my parents didn’t allow me to play there. But we used to cut plantain leaves to make boats. When my mother came to know about it, she used to beat me.

How do you unwind?

I watch movies on my home theatre. I like to watch romance/comedy movies. I don’t like to watch violent movies.

Favourite actor:

Malayalam actor Srinivasan.

Favourite musician:

A. R. Rahman.

Favourite holiday destinations:

Paris and Monaco. Because of the beautiful landscape and the presence of few people.

Favourite gadgets:

I am not a big fan of them.