Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Gold for Anju Bobby George

By John Cheeran
Anju Bobby George ended her Olympics with a whimper.
The 31-year old Indian long jumper could not make a single legal jump on Tuesday in Beijing and it was an inconsolable final chapter to her chequered international career.
But Anju Bobby George’s story as an athlete has many positive lessons for India’s Generation Next.
It was injury that spoiled her last hurrah in Olympics.
"I hurt my ankle in the warm-up. But since this is the Olympics I did not want to pull out. I tried my best but I was unable to do anything," Anju said and she was seen clutching her ankle after her last attempt on Tuesday.
But Anju was a force to reckon with in her chosen field. In the Athens Olympics she made the final and finished a creditable sixth with a jump of 6.83 metres.
At Beijing, she only needed to jump 6.75 for an automatic qualification into the final round.
On Tuesday the last of the 12 qualifiers, Chelsea Hammond of Jamaica, made the grade at 6.60m. A distance Anju would have surpassed with ease in normal circumstances.
So it was not the lack of ability. Anju may not have won a medal, but she could have held her own among the world’s best athletes with a sterling show.
After all, she is the only Indian athlete to have won a medal in the world athletics championship till date.
In the 2003 World Championships in Paris Anju won bronze medal with a jump of 6.70 metres. In 2005, at IAAF World Athletics final she had won silver.
But all her four-year long grind came to naught in Beijing. Was it the inability to handle the pressure at the ultimate stage of her sport that let Anju down?
I don’t think so.
Anju has handled the pressure quite well, and she is a veteran of two Olympics and many World Athletics Championships and Asian Games.
There is something other than ability that defines your life. Some call it luck. Some call it fate.
A name that comes to mind is that of Sergei Bubka. Bubka set a world record for breaking the world records in pole vault but he ended his career without an Olympic gold.
There is no comparison between Bubka and Anju.
Anju, in her own limited way told India, the nation, that with the right amount of information, training and dedication we could compete with dignity at the international level. Well, in fact P.T. Usha had proved that point years ago, in 1984, at the Los Angeles Olympics.
Anju has done consistently well to be a leading athlete in log jump, a name that was feared and respected by Russians and Americans.
Anju’s botched attempts in Beijing take on the hues of gold and silver when you look at the Indian society, large sections of which are still clad in the purdah of medieval approach to life.
Anju’s failed quest for Olympic gold attains significance when you stare at the fact India has never had a female athlete from the 18 per cent strong Muslim community.
Yes, we have had Aswini Nachappas, Valsammas, Sandhus, Jyotirmoyee Sikdars, Chitra Somans, Mandeep Kaurs, Geethas, Sini Joses, Povammas, Mridulas etc.
A community, that waits for Sachar commission to reserve for it quotas in national life. Why is it that Muslim women are running way from the reality and scared to engage with rest of the society?
Only, the glorious exception has been the brave and beautiful Sania Mirza. But athletics is unglamorous, hard work unlike tennis.
It is when you think of the mobile tents and female infanticides that happen in India, Anju’s sacrifices -- a young woman’s quest for an Olympic gold -- acquire fresh perspective and meanings.
At 31, with many predictable things in life, including a motherhood postponed, Anju has served India with honour and rare courage.
Let me salute Anju during her hour of agony.

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