There's unfinished business yet

STAN RAYAN

Anju and Bobby George... gearing up for the Helsinki World championships. — Pic. MAHESH HARILAL-

AFTER all the sweat, sacrifice and hard work, one would have expected her to let her hair down after Athens. Probably, have some fun. Think of planning a family.

For long, life has been one big circuit for Anju George and her hubby Bobby, rushing from meet to meet, often living out of a kit bag.

But fun and family are not a priority for Indian athletics' first couple right now.

"No, no," laughed Anju, "We can't think of any such thing in two months, can we?" she said.

The reason for such less-play-more-work thinking could be the unfinished mission, which has been gnawing at her and Bobby for the last few months.

"We have to compensate India for the Olympics," said Bobby George, "We have the World Championship in Helsinki coming up next year, the qualifying on August 9 and the final the next day."

The goal is very clear. The mission is to convert last year's historic Paris World bronze to gold in Helsinki. That will surely make up for the Athens flop, "We're looking at something in the 7 to 7.20m range," said the new Dronacharya Awardee.

Anju had jumped 7.02m at training a few days before the Olympics but a dust allergy let her down in Athens. "She is capable of doing seven in competition. It's just a matter of getting everything right," said Bobby.

Technically, Anju is now almost sound now. She is a lot faster too. And she has even conquered the many fouls that often kept her from going all out. She has matured into a fine athlete and is quite consistent in the 6.85m range.

"Now, it's a question of giving her more load and getting the balance right," said Bobby.

Talking about questions, here's one many had wanted to ask Anju and Bobby. Would she have got an Olympic medal had she continued training with Mike Powell, the American world-record holder?

"I wouldn't say so," said Bobby. "The system there is entirely different. And when you work in a university group, you will not be given individual priority or attention. Often, it was not very encouraging. More than our training with Powell, it was Anju's exposure in big meets which has brought her this far.

"To be frank, Powell has not produced a medallist at the Olympics and even during the few months when we trained with him, there was no exceptional progress. And Saudi Arabian Taber al-Sabee, Powell's trainee who did very well at Grand Prix meets (he was World No.2 before the Olympics), was sent back from Athens soon after the opening ceremony for failing a dope test in one of the earlier meets," revealed Bobby.

In sharp contrast, working as a husband-wife team gives one a big advantage. "You get instant and constant feedback, you can be frank and free with each other and work more closely too," he said.

Anju and Bobby plan to go to Australia early next year for their next phase of training.

"We'd love to train in Bangalore but the equipment and infrastructure there need a lot of change. I wouldn't say the authorities concerned are not aware of these things, but unfortunately nobody is bothered about infrastructure here," said Bobby. "And most of the equipment are of the 1982 kind."

The sad thing is, we are ready to spend hundreds of crores to host the Afro-Asian and the Commonwealth Games. We even want to bid for the Olympics.

But we're not willing to spend a few crores to re-lay dead synthetic tracks or to buy modern equipment for our athletes.

"Small things matter ... a good gym, a nice jet water massage, good physiotherapists, equipment for recovery, a nice and clean track. And a small indoor track, for you just stop training when it rains. All these things will make a world of a difference to our athletes," said Bobby.