The only Indian to win a medal at the World Athletics Championships, Anju Bobby George, believes that a month-long training stint with the legendary Mike Powell helped her fine tune her skills just ahead of the 2003 Worlds in Paris.
Incredibly, Powell's long jump record of 8.95m set back in 1991 still stands to this day. So how did the American help Anju Bobby George leap to a famous bronze medal at those World Championships?
A foreign excursion
With little foreign exposure available to Indian athletes in the early 2000s, Anju’s coach Bobby George was convinced that she needed to step outside the country and train to make an impact at the international stage.
“He’s (Mike Powell) a world record holder and he has that aura about him. You feel uplifted when you are training with a person of that stature,” Anju Bobby George told the Olympic Channel in a recent interview.
“It was a morale booster to train with a world recorder holder. Because back then, the opportunities to train with the best in the world were very rare for an Indian. And I was lucky.
“If you are to look back to when I was competing, technical know-how was limited in the country. We would barely go out to learn and bring the latest available knowledge to the athletes here, but that’s changed drastically now.
“We never knew what would happen outside the country. And in a sport like athletics where things change and improve every rapidly, we would lag behind.”
Anju Bobby George’s strive for perfection
The 43-year-old Anju Bobby George added that her stint with Mike Powell helped her polish minute details, which eventually proved to be the difference.
“From a technical standpoint, I didn’t see much of a difference between what I was used to with Bobby here and when Mike would do there,” said Anju, who clinched a bronze medal at the 2003 World Championships.
“But it’s my technique that he helped me improve. There was a lot that we didn’t know about the perfect technique to execute a jump, and Mike helped us with that.”
Apart from a number of new drills that Anju Bobby George was introduced to, Powell ensured that the Indian athlete worked on her running as well.
While Anju was largely used to a run-up of about 38 metres, the American wanted her to include a few more strides that would help her build more thrust as she approached the board.
“What’s the right technique? What should be the rhythm of your approach? These are the few things that we learnt in the US,” shared Anju Bobby George.
“It’s not that these things are not available in theory. You can find videos that try and teach you these things.
“But the practical application, the nitty-gritty of the movements, the minute details can only be taught by someone who has mastered the technique. And Mike (Powell) was one among them.”
Over the years, Anju Bobby George has maintained her relationship with the legendary American, with Mike Powell flying down to India to inaugurate her Bengaluru academy in 2016.