Anju Bobby George’s leap of faith

Halfway through a conversation with track and field coach Robert Bobby George, his wife Anju, India’s only World Championship medalist, walks in with a beaming and warm smile. She seemed to have a telepathic understanding of the line of interaction. Bobby spoke devoutly about sports, and nothing else, despite futile nudges. Showing a knowing smile, she said, “What you can’t expect from him.” Good luck!”

Georges, after a period of voluntary interruption of active sports, is back in the news. Together they shape Shaili Singh, India’s brightest long jump prospect since Anju herself and whose early promises were confirmed with a silver medal at the 2020 U-20 World Championships in August. . Three months after the feat, the World Athletics Federation awarded Anju the title of Woman of the Year for her contribution to sport and gender equality in the country.

After Anju retired ten years ago, Bobby decided to take a break and rest from their quiet life, raising children and building the house of his dreams. The rigors of the past decade needed an outlet. “It was a well-deserved break. Our two children were born. I bought a small piece of land in Wayanad and tried the tea plantation, ”he says.

But they couldn’t keep the sport out of their hearts for long. Their return, but under a different avatar, was inevitable. “My passion, my job, everything is athleticism,” says Bobby, younger brother of the inimitable Jimmy George.

Although removed from active training, he has closely followed developments on the track and field circuit and has kept an eye out for young talent such as current national long jump record holder Sreeshankar Murali. Bobby suggested a major adjustment in the youngster’s technique and it helped him improve his distance by a few notches.

Anju Bobby George in action. (File photo)

Then, in 2017, the head of the Indian Athletics Federation’s planning committee, Lalit Bhanot, asked if Bobby could lead a junior coaching program. Bobby agreed. It wasn’t the first time Bhanot had pushed Bobby to become a coach. In 2000, when Bobby’s show jumping career hit a roadblock after injury, Bhanot asked him to focus fully on training. “He told me to go. He said: ‘Your career is just that. Focus on training Anju and we can expect something big from her. Without any formal certification, he introduced me as Anju’s coach at the national camp.

Unofficially, he was already training Anju. In 1998, when Anju’s coach left the camp, Bobby volunteered to guide her. “Whatever happened, it was good for Indian athletics… The trip is not as easy as you think,” says Bobby, a graduate mechanical engineer.

The conversation shuttles between the past and the present. It’s inevitable, as it ties the greatest long jumper in the country’s history to one who might be the tallest in the future.

When Anju met Bobby …

Nostalgia filters through the fresh morning air. Anju vividly remembers seeing Bobby for the first time, at the gym. “I just saw him. We didn’t talk. At the time, it was almost like a crime to talk to the boys. It was a bit later when Anju found himself stranded in the camp without coach they spoke for the first time.

Anju asked Bobby if he could help him with the start-up measure. “That’s how it started. He then started to help me with the training. Our training times were the same, we spent hours together but never talked about anything other than sports. We were very focused, ”she says.

Gradually, Bobby and Anju developed affection. Two years later, Bobby proposed. “I said no,” Anju said, laughing out loud. “I liked him but I said no because I was a little scared. You know how the company was back then. I was a little hesitant and first said no, ”she recalls.

Training continued as usual. But it didn’t take long for Anju to reconsider her decision. “I quickly realized that marriage would be the best option. We both loved each other and spent all the time together. I asked her to speak to my family and they agreed, ”she said.

“We knew that marriage would also lift our travel restrictions. We could go out together for training and competition. It was also one of the reasons why we decided to get married, ”adds Anju.

She insists that these are contrasting personalities. Bobby loves his Ghazal playlists while Anju considers them “slow” music. Bobby is often blunt and straightforward when dealing with people, while Anju believes tact works best. While Bobby never tires of talking about athletics, the Worlds bronze medalist thinks taking a break every now and then is a good idea.

“We are very different people. He’s the artistic type. He loves design, he is interested in agriculture. I don’t have the patience for all of this. Even this morning he was talking about sports and I asked to give me a little break, ”says Anju, who married Bobby in 2000. Jovial jokes aside, the couple have great admiration for him. one for the other.

The best of both worlds

Shaili Singh Shaili Singh long sweater. (File photo)

The chalk and cheese partnership worked, in particular by bringing back two historic medals at the Worlds. There could be more, as Shaili is billed as India’s brightest hope to win the first-ever Olympic medal in the long jump.

They spotted Shaili at a U14 meeting in 2017. Even though she was fifth, they anticipated a potential star. Even though she had “no technique,” ​​her physique, lean muscle tone, and raw talent impressed them.

Shaili, a student at St. Benedict’s School in Kengeri, trains with 12 other junior athletes under Bobby’s guidance in Bangalore. Bobby has never shied away from praising the youngster who he believes will dominate the world tour. Months before the world junior championships in Nairobi in August, he made a calculated prediction that Shaili would jump 6.60m. Shaili won the silver medal with a best jump of 6.59m, one centimeter behind the gold medal and Bobby’s prediction. “I told you what Shaili is capable of. I delivered, didn’t I? Bobby said, his eyes shining with pride.

Bobby firmly believes that Shaili has made such great strides solely because of the double contribution she receives from Anju and him. “Being with a champion gives you a lot of confidence. Being with the coach of a world champion has a double impact, ”says Bobby.

Anju Bobby George, Shaili Singh Anju Bobby George (left) with her ward Shaili Singh (Twitter / Shaili Singh)

“I started training Anju in my twenties so there were some issues that I couldn’t fix. This is not the case with Shaili. I worked with her from scratch and right now she’s in the middle of our six-year development program, ”Bobby adds.

Shaili, almost unconsciously, resumed Anju’s ways. Like her casual outfit. “I went to meet the Minister of Sports the other day and he told me that we are very similar,” says Anju.

Shaili shares a close bond with Anju and her children, Andrea and Aaron. During the second confinement, the Sports Authority of India decided to send all the trainees home. But Shaili and a few others wanted to stay in Bengaluru to take their school exams and continue their training.

“I had a vacant house near my home and I let them stay there. I told them that since it’s COVID, we can’t hire help. I used to shop for groceries and protein and they would cook and have fun, ”says Bobby.

Shaili loves Bengaluru so much that every time she visits her home in Uttar Pradesh she begins to plan for her return. “Ghar pe maan hi nahin lagta. (I don’t feel good staying at home). I keep thinking about training. I love it in Bangalore. I love spending time with Aaron and Andrea. I also like to play Punjabi music and dance, ”says Shaili, who is in charge of cleaning and sweeping tasks since she is the youngest of the lot.

Whenever a new intern joins Bobby, he hands them money and sends them to the nearest sportswear store. “I want my athletes to dress smartly and feel good about themselves,” Bobby says. “We are not only artists, but also artists,” adds Bobby.

Before the final of the world junior championships in Nairobi, Shaili’s physiotherapist, Zeba, had some extra work to do. Not in sport, however. “I am her physiotherapist and also her makeup artist,” she says. Shaili searches online for the latest fashion trends. “I love to dress up.”

“When I used to do my makeup before competitions, people would ask me why it was necessary. But I wanted to look presentable and feel good about myself. I haven’t always been like this. Bobby only helped me in this area, ”says Anju. After all, he might also do things you wouldn’t expect from a sports-obsessed trainer.

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