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Is Anju Bobby George India's greatest athlete ever, ahead of Milkha Singh and PT Usha?


Anju Bobby George

Although it has come a little belatedly, the name of Anju Bobby George has now been eternally enshrined in the history of Indian athletics. Anju has been conferred with the gold medal for long jump in the World Athletics Final held in Monte Carlo in 2005; this came about a full nine years after the event, when the original winner Tatyana Kotova was found to have tested positive for the banned substance “formestane” earlier today.

The Indian, who initially finished second with silver, will now receive a certificate confirming her change of medal status to gold.

Anju’s impressive list of accomplishments

Anju had already made history in 2003 by becoming the first Indian to ever win a medal in an Athletics World Championships event, when she jumped 6.70 metres to win bronze.

Anju has also won the bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games (in the 2002 edition at Manchester), a gold medal at the Asian Games at Busan in 2002 (as well as a silver at the 2006 edition in Doha) and a gold medal at the Asian Championships of 2005 in Incheon (to go with her silver at the 2007 edition in Amman).

In addition, Anju has represented India twice in the Olympics – first in 2004 at Athens, where she finished sixth (which was later upgraded to fifth due to the disqualification of Marion Jones), and then in Beijing 2008.

Olympics medal for Anju in the offing?

Anju’s fifth place finish in Athens may well be converted into a medal finish in the future, as two of the athletes who finished higher than her are currently under a cloud of doping controversy.

Irina Simagina, who won the silver medal in Athens, was suspended in 2012 by the Russian athletics association for a drug-related offence. Further, the bronze medallist in Athens was none other than Tatyana Kotova. So in the event that both Simagina and Kotova are disqualified, Anju would be entitled to an Olympics bronze medal.

(So far, no evidence has been unearthed to prove that Simagina and Kotova used any banned substance during the Athens Olympics. But with the advancements in drug testing technology, frozen urine samples of athletes are re-tested periodically to detect any presence of steroids, which throws open the possibility of these two athletes being stripped of their medals).

Irrespective of whether she is conferred with an Olympic medal or not though, Anju has already entered a unique league with the affirmation of her first place finish at the 2005 World Athletics Finals.

The pantheon of Indian athletic greats – Milkha Singh and PT Usha

When it comes to Indian athletes, the names Milkha Singh and Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha, or PT Usha, always come into the picture. Both of them are considered as the greatest athletes that India have ever produced. However, from a statistical point of view, it now seems that that is not the case.

‘The Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh had an impeccable career in the late 60s and early 70s, but most of his medals on the international stage came in the Asian Games. The same can be said about PT Usha, also known as ‘The Payyoli Express’, who won all her international medals in the Asian Games.

On the other hand, Anju Bobby George has a greater reach of medals in terms of international competitions.

Statistical comparison of the achievements of Anju Bobby George, Milkha Singh and PT Usha

Here is a look at the international medals won by these three greats:

Milkha Singh

PT Usha

Anju Bobby George

And now, here is a comparison of the medals each of the three won at international competitions, in a consolidated table:


Stats don’t lie – the verdict is clear

From the above comparisons, we can clearly see that Anju Bobby George had had a far more successful career in athletics than Milkha Singh and PT Usha. The medals she has won have not only come in a wider variety of tournaments, but also against stronger fields.

It can be argued that Milkha Singh and PT Usha never got the opportunity to participate in events like the World Athletics Final (which was only held from 2003 to 2009) and the World Athletics Championships (which only started in the year 1983). But the counterpoint to that is that IAAF had decided in 1913 to let the Olympics serve as the world championships for athletics, and that status quo was maintained until the first World Championships held in 1983. So effectively, during their peak years, Milkha Singh and PT Usha had just as much opportunity to win medals in the officially recognized athletics world event (the Olympics) as Anju did during hers.

Whichever way you look at it, the verdict is clear – Anju Bobby George is, without a shadow of a doubt, India’s most successful sportsperson in the field of athletics. By virtue of the gold medal that was conferred to her today, Anju can claim to have been a world champion in her field. And as harsh as this sounds, none of  her predecessors (or successors) ever even came close to being a world champion. Milkha Singh and PT Usha were greats in their own right, but Anju overshadows them both.

What a difference a simple drug test can make to the athletic history of a country!

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