In the last few years, India celebrated gold medal-winning performances of two track and field athletes at the World U-20 championship and rightly put them on a pedestal, hoping that they would achieve similar glory on the senior circuit.

Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra justified that faith by winning the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games gold medals in 2018 before an elbow injury struck while sprinter Hima Das is still aiming to qualify for the Tokyo Games after a back injury hurt her progress for the last one year.

But long before these two athletes took up the sport seriously, Anju Bobby George leapt in the history books in 2003 when she bagged India’s first-ever World Championship medal in Paris.

What made her achievement all the more special is the fact that she was hardly a medal contender when she reached Paris as the field included France’s Eunice Barber, Russia’s Tatyana Kotova and Lyudmila Galkina, Britisher Jade Johnson and Italy’s defending champion Fiona May.

It also did not help matters that Anju had been suffering from severe fatigue just a few weeks before the World Championship and was even considering pulling out of the event. But her husband and coach Robert Bobby George not only coaxed her into staying put but also ensured that she remained in good spirits ahead of the competition.

Hoping to do well in Paris, Anju had undergone training under the legendary Mike Powell in the USA and the one-month stint had also opened up avenues for her to compete in a few events in Europe before the World Championship. But her performance had suffered drastically in those meets due to fatigue and no one was really sure how her physical condition was when she lined up for training in Paris.

But Bobby was confident and instilled that same belief in his wife. Anju’s very first jump in the qualifying turned out to be 6.61m as she took an early lead in the competition.

“On the day of the qualification round, Bobby told me you need to reach the final, that is the first step. After all, we have trained so hard. Once I reached the final, he started talking about the medal. I had gained a lot of confidence by then and started believing that I would win a medal,” she was quoted as saying by the Indian Express recently.

She fouled her next two jumps while Barber and Kotova jumped to the joint first position. Johnson also registered a jump of 6.63m to push Anju to fourth place and it looked like her spot in the final could also be under threat if some of the other jumpers could step up.

But May and Galkina failed to make the cut for the final and Anju had a realistic chance of making to the podium. Her fourth jump wasn’t anything spectacular but registering a fair jump would have definitely given her the confidence to go for broke in the fifth as leaving the charge for a medal to the sixth and last jump only adds to the pressure on the athlete.

Anju says, her running rhythm was disturbed as her spikes hit the other leg and when she landed the jump she did not really feel confident that she had done enough to win a medal.

Despite the disappointed look on her face immediately after the jump, Anju had managed to clear a distance of 6.70m to leapfrog Johnson, who could not improve on her earlier effort. The bronze medal was India’s first-ever podium in the prestigious competition. Barber clinched the gold with a jump of 6.99m in her final attempt with Kotova taking the silver.

Anju went on to win a silver medal in the World Athletics Final in 2005 in Monaco. Her performance was elevated to a gold medal position in 2014 after champion Kotova was disqualified for doping.

You can watch the bronze medal-winning jump below: