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Anju can do it
August 14, 2004
Wherever I have gone in the last few months I have been repeatedly asked one question: will long jumper Anju Bobby George be able to bring an end to India's athletics medal drought in the Athens Olympics? And as I start my column, I am sure my readers would also like me address the issue.
Frankly, it's a difficult question, but let me answer it purely from the athletics point of view. While all Indians, including yours faithfully, will wait with bated breath and pray for the best on August 25 when Anju starts her campaign in the qualifying rounds, it is perhaps time to take stock of the situation in a more practical manner.
Anju, a very dear and near friend of mine and the holder of India's national long jump record (6.74m), raised hopes of an Olympic medal after she won the bronze medal in the World Championships. She was ranked fifth in the world a few days ago, but has slipped to the sixth place only recently.
In 2004, Anju cleared 6.71 and over 6.80m twice -- 6.82 and 6.83m in Doha, Qatar, and in Eugene, Oregon. But both these fine efforts were wind-assisted with the tail wind just half a metre per second over the permissible limit for record purposes.
Athletics is a sport where the performance chart reveals quite a few things. And going strictly by it, I am afraid to say that our girl will have to really fight it out to finish in the medal bracket. There are quite a few around, who have already performed enough to leave Anju behind even if they manage to stick to their normal performance.
I may sound too pessimistic, but let me put the facts and figures together for you to judge the situation. There are at least seven girls, who have cleared much more than Anju in 2004. While Tatyana Lebedeva of Russia did the best this year with 7.33 at Tula, others like Irina Simagina (Russia, 7.27), Elva Goulbourne (Jamaica, 7.16), Marion Jones (US, 7.11), Tatyana Kotova (Russia, 7.00), Carolina Kluft (Sweden, 6.97) and Gracy Upshaw (US, 6.84) have done better. Naturally, they stand a better chance when it comes to winning a medal in the Olympics.
But, then, it would be improper to say that Anju's hopes have already been dashed and I am the last person to buy this theory. As a former athlete, who has competed on the world stage for many years, I know that things can change dramatically on the day of the competition. The medals, after all, are not awarded on the basis of previous showings. The athlete has to perform on that particular day to stand on the podium.
If I still believe that Anju can win a medal, that is because I know she has prepared in a near-perfect manner in the tune-up to the Athens Games. She has received the right corporate and family backings, has done long-term training, has participated in quite a few major meets and most importantly, she gained the required confidence to do well when it matters most.
Anju once told me that she has cleared up to 6.95 in training. If she can maintain that in the Olympics, then I am sure she has an outside chance to be the first Indian athlete after Norman Prichard to win a medal for India. Let us hope that Anju achieves what Milkha Singh, GS Randhawa, Sriram Singh or I could not. Let August 27, the day of the long jump final, be a red-letter day for Indian sport and athletics in particular.
Other than Anju, I don't think any other Indian athlete can really stretch our imagination in Athens. High jumper Bobby Aloysius may offer some fight as she has undergone good training in Moscow and England. But her best effort of 1.91m can hardly match the performance of athletes like Yelena Slesarenko (Russia), Hestrie Cloete (US), Blanka Vlasic (Croatia), Vanelina Veneva (Bulgaria) or Iryana Mykhalechnko (Ukraine), who have cleared more than two metres in 2004.
Drugs is one thing that is plaguing the sport for a long time now. And with much worshipped Greek 200 metre world champion Costas Kenteris coming under dope cloud hours before the start of the Olympics, I will not be surprised if many more such things unfold in the next fortnight. The testing this time is much stricter and anyone trying to cheat his way to glory will not be spared. I welcome all such efforts from the bottom of my heart.