Vimala College, a 54-year-old women’s college in Thrissur, is the alma mater of five Olympians, all of whom were under the tutelage of the institute’s PE teacher at the time, Professor Annie Varghese.

A collage of Anju Bobyy George on the left and Jincy Phillip on the rightAnju Bobby George and Jincy Phillip
Features Sports Friday, July 23, 2021 - 10:40

Jincy Phillip, who ran the 4x400 metres relay at the 2000 Summer Olympics and has won numerous medals at the Asian Games, remembers getting her first proper pair of spikes while in college. “It was Annie Miss who gave me my first pair of spikes when she realised that I didn’t have any sports accessories of my own,” says Jincy, who is now in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Annie Miss, as she is fondly known, is Professor Annie Varghese, who taught physical education for a little more than 30 years at Vimala College, Jincy’s alma mater.

And Jincy isn’t the only Olympian to have studied at Vimala College and been trained by Prof Annie. With the buzz around the Tokyo 2020 Olympics which is set to start on July 23, TNM spoke to Prof Annie and the student-athletes of Vimala College, the 54-year-old women’s college in Thrissur that has produced five of Kerala’s 19 women Olympians. This includes India’s most decorated woman athlete Anju Bobby George, who represented India at the Olympic Games in 2004 and 2008; Rosa Kutty who was the first from Vimala College to reach the Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta; Jincy and Manjima Kuriakose who were part of the Indian women’s 4x400 m relay team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics; and high jumper Bobby Aloysius who took part in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“More than it being a sheer coincidence that I happened to lead the college’s physical education department when these athletes were students there, I consider this a great fortune of the college to have produced five Olympians,” says the 77-year-old Professor Annie, who retired from teaching in 1998. She reminisces about the days she used to coach at Vimala College when the institute didn’t even have a proper ground of its own. But that didn’t stop her or the students. “We used to start training before sunset at the neighbouring Government Engineering College grounds, as our college had only a very small ground,” says the professor. After which, she would make sure the Vimala athletes were back at the college hostel.

Prof Annie says that sport lovers in and around Thrissur were greatly indebted to the nuns who were integral to Vimala College, the founder Principal Sr Stella Marie, and two others who also served as principals later – Sr Philomina and Sr Lina – as well as Sr Leo. “Each of these nuns liberally supported sports activities at Vimala,” says Prof Annie, adding, “I’m unsure if there is any other college in India that produced more Olympians than Vimala College.” (Mercy College in Palakkad has produced four Olympians, namely PT Usha, MD Valsamma, Mercy Kuttan and K Saramma.)

Vimala College in Thrissur

While the training was hard and the days long, the Olympians remember their time at Vimala fondly. Jincy says the college days were filled with lots of happiness and satisfaction. There was also plenty of support offered to the athletes by the institution. Manjima, now a Deputy Commandant at the CRPF, recalled that her parents were unable to pay her hostel fee. “On learning about my financial difficulties, Annie Miss and our coaches intervened to waive the hostel fee during my entire three-year stay,” she says.

Prof Annie also remembered the services rendered by two coaches – TP Ouseph and EJ George – in turning the athletics squad of the college into a formidable team. “Kerala Sports Council (KCS) coach Ouseph, who served as the national coach for jump events on many occasions, and his KSC colleague George were simply much more than athletics coaches,” says Prof Annie.

“They were more like father figures to our athletes and had a great influence on each of them. They made corrections in their attitudes and behaviour, and taught them to be more responsible,” she recalls. She adds that the coaches also affected proper changes in their practice techniques at the right juncture when they thought such alterations could produce better results in the long run.

Prof Annie, who trained five athletes who became Olympic medalists

In fact, Bobby said she started thinking seriously about a greater level of competition only after working with coach Ouseph at Vimala College. “He was the one who took me and my Vimala classmate and former national champion triple jumper, Lekha Thomas, to Chennai for the selection trials for the Atlanta Olympics,” she says.

“Annie Miss and coaches Ouseph and George took care of our requirements like their own, and none of them compromised in instilling a sense of discipline in our team members,” adds Jincy.

The college, especially, was very supportive of sports. Ouseph says Prof Annie and the Vimala College management had given him complete freedom to select athletes who had performed well at the school level to be admitted to the college. “Some others came on their own after they found out that the college was very supportive of sports those days,” he adds. The institution gave its student-athletes the opportunity to be trained and guided by coaches who nurtured their talent. “What we achieved was possible only because of the support and encouragement from the college management, especially Prof Annie Varghese,” says Bobby.

Ramesh Mathew is the former station director of a community FM Radio Station in Kerala. He has previously worked with the Gulf Times in Qatar and with Indian Express in Delhi, Ahmedabad and Kochi. He is currently based in Kochi.

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