BENGALURU: As the Tricolour went up at the World Athletics Championships at Oregon after nearly two decades with Neeraj Chopra bagging a historic silver, path-breaker Anju Bobby George, who opened India’s account back in 2003 by winning the bronze in women’s long jump, travelled down the memory lane on Sunday morning.
“It may not be noticed by all, but I could sense that Neeraj was under a bit of pressure after he failed to produce a big mark with his first throw. I went through the same mental process back at the Paris Worlds in 2003 when I was lying fourth after the fourth attempt. I then managed my season’s best of 6.70 with my fifth jump that helped me bag the bronze medal. And today Neeraj did just the same as he fought back and grabbed the silver with a big heave in his fourth attempt,” Anju told TOI as she applauded Chopra’s big moment on the world stage.
At the Stade de France on August 30, 2003, Anju lost out the silver medal to Tatyana Kotova, the Russian was later caught for doping, who had a best of 6.74 metres. Crowd favourite and French star Eunice Barber took the gold with a leap of 6.99m.
Anju said Neeraj was lucky to feed off the energy of Indian supporters compared to what she faced in Paris. “Then it was just a few Indians cheering for me compared to the hundreds of supporters who were rooting for Neeraj,” she said. “It was so nice of Neeraj to dedicate the silver to me. I’m sure he will go on to make our country proud for many more years,” she added.
“Back then no one realized the gravity of India’s first medal at a World Championships and I’m glad Neeraj’s big win has put the focus back on India’s first medal. Such was the lack of focus that I won a reward of Rs 20 lakh for winning the Asian Games gold in 2002 but my reward for the Worlds bronze was Rs three lakh,” Anju recalled.
After Neeraj became the second Indian to win an individual Olympic gold at Tokyo in 2021, Abhinav Bindra, the first Indian to achieve the feat, gifted the javelin ace a golden retriever. Does she also intend to gift Neeraj something? Anju said she still was to finalize it.