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The Rediff Interview/Anju George

'I plan to cross the 7-metre barrier this year'

Shobha Warrier | January 23, 2003

After P.T. Usha, the new star on the Indian athletics scene is long jumper Anju George. It was with a bronze medal at the 17th Commonwealth Games in Manchester, where she competed against world-class athletes from England and Australia, that she shot into the limelight. The 24-year-old covered a distance of 6.49 metres in her final jump and became the first woman athlete from India to win a medal at the Games, though the effort was not her personal best. That performance was followed by a golden jump at the Busan Asian Games.

Anju GeorgeNow, Anju is set to add another first to her credit. She will be the first woman athlete from India to participate in the highly-competitive European athletics circuit. More interesting is the news that she will train under world long jump record holder Mike Powell, who is also a Physical Education professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she plans to move to in March.

All this is in preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games, she says.

The petite Kerala-born Tamil Nadu-based lass, who is ranked 16th in the 'top' list of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and 16th in the world, spoke to rediff.com about her plans.

You will be the first Indian woman athlete to participate in the European circuit. Why did you decide to compete in Europe?

My ultimate aim is the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. As I will be training hard for the Olympics in 2004, I will not be able to participate in the European circuit next year. That is the reason why we chose to go to Europe this year. On the European circuit you encounter world-level competition as all world-class athletes are there. It means all those who would be participating in the Olympics will be there. So it will be a great experience for me if I can compete with them before the Olympics. That is why we decided to go to Europe.

Which are the meets that you would compete in?

Actually, we are a bit disappointed, as this year most of the meets will have the triple jump instead of long jump. They generally alternate with triple jump and long jump, and this year it is going to be the triple jump. So I will get to participate in only two competitions in Europe. When we heard the news from our manager, Alexander of England, we were a bit disappointed.

I will compete in the World championships in Athens and one more competition there. These are the two indoor championships that I would be competing in.

I haven't participated in any indoor competition in my life; I have no idea how it will be. Even the climatic conditions can affect your performance. As you know, it is quite cold over there.

I would be competing in quite a few outdoor events also, but we are yet to finalise the list.

In what way does your manager help you?

He is the person who co-ordinates with the meet officials. He also will take care of our accommodation. The Government of India will meet some of our expenses, but we will have to try for private sponsorship for the rest of it.

What do you expect to achieve from this European tour? Are you going there only to get some experience?

I am really looking forward to competing in the World championships, as competing in such a meet will give you experience and confidence. That is because it is the major event before the Olympics.

In fact, our plan was to compete in as many European events as possible from this January. I am going there only to gain experience.

But if I can cross 7 metres, I am sure to get a medal. There is no doubt about it.

Anju Bobby George won the long jump gold at the Asian GamesYou used to participate in the triple jump. Now have you decided not to participate in the event anymore?

One thing is, at the international level I have no chance of winning a medal in the triple jump. You need a lot of practice if you want to win a medal in that event. I used to participate in the triple jump only if I was sure of a medal. But my favourite event is the long jump and I have decided to concentrate only on that. I have a chance of winning a medal at the international level only in that event. Moreover, it is difficult to do both the events. Triple jump is more injury-prone and I do not want anything to affect my Olympics preparations.

How are you preparing towards crossing the 7 metre mark?

I am going to the USA in March to train under the world record holder in long jump, Mike Powell. I will come back for the Asian Grand Prix in May. Our plans are to train under him till the World championships.

How did you get this opportunity to train under Powell at the University of California in Los Angeles?

Bobby's [Anju's husband] brother, who is a doctor, has quite a few friends in the US. It was they who contacted Mike Powell, and they passed on his contact number to us. After that we contacted him directly.

How responsive was he?

He was very positive in his response. He appeared to be quite happy to train an athlete from India. I am quite excited about the whole thing. Since you are going to be training under a world champion you can expect some tips from him. That is what I am looking forward to.

Bobby also will accompany me to the university as my coach.

I read in a newspaper that you are going to train in the 100 metres sprint... you have already clocked good timings.

Yes, I am going to do the 100 metres sprint because we feel that it will help me in the long jump. If I run the 100 metres, it will increase my speed to the jump. If I need to break the seven metre barrier, I need to accelerate in my run-up. It is only for that purpose that I am doing the 100-dash. Otherwise, I have no plans to concentrate on the event.

When do you plan to cross the 7 metre barrier?

I have to do it this year itself. By the time the World championships start, I should cross 7 metres. That is our plan for the future. But my ambition is to win an Olympic medal.

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