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All eyes on Anju
August 24, 2004 23:46 IST
With India's medal chances in the Olympics fading, the focus turns to ace long jumper Anju Bobby George, the only hope left to earn the country another podium finish.
Anju has quietly prepared for the women's long jump, which starts with the qualification rounds on Wednesday, and kept herself away from the glare of the Indian media to stay focused on the big day.
The Indians have just Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's historic silver medal to show for after 11 days of Olympic action and are now banking on Anju to add another medal to their kitty.
The 27-year-old world number six has been having a regular training session ever since she checked into the Games village a few days ahead of the Opening Ceremony in a bid to acclimatize to the conditions in Athens.
Her husband-coach Bobby George said she is totally focussed for the event and had even gone to the Main Olympic Stadium to get a feel of the atmosphere.
Clearly, Anju is not prepared to leave anything to chance but it remains to be seen whether she can actually deliver the goods.
With a bronze medal in the World Athletics Championship in Paris last year, the star long jumper has already made her presence felt in the world arena.
Anju, who was also the flag bearer of the Indian contingent, is currently ranked sixth in the world with 1250 points and is hoping to peak at the right time.
Much of the credit for the Chennai-based athlete's rise to fame goes to Mike Powell, under whom she trained in California last year.
She won the title at the Modesto relays with a jump of 6.65m after which she was ranked 13th in the world. Then began her journey in the European circuit, where she competed in a series of Grand Prix meets.
The Indian champion has quite a few rivals to beat, including Marion Jones, the American sprint ace who is under a cloud related to drug abuse.
Her other notable rivals are French world champion Eunice Barber, ranked fifth, and a set of strong challengers from Russia, including world indoor champion and world number two Tatyana Lebedeva and world number one Tatyana Kotova.
In the tune-up to the Athens Games, Anju cleared over 6.80m twice, 6.82 and 6.83m to be precise at Doha, Qatar and at Eugene, Oregon, but both the efforts were wind-assisted.
With a best effort of 6.66m this year without the help of wind, the national record holder (6.74m) has relied on an extensive training abroad to fulfill a long cherished dream of winning an Olympic medal.
The Indian ace has rubbed shoulders with the best in the world over the last couple of years and must be fairly confident of her own ability to withstand the pressure which would be huge in the Olympic arena.