CHENNAI: It’s not every day that someone looks at a fifteen-year-old and declares with utmost certainty that she or he was going to have a big future.
Robert Bobby George, however, minces no words when predicting the future of his protege, long-jumper Shaili Singh. “She will be a medal contender in Paris (2024 Olympics), that I can tell you,” he says.
Robert knows what he is talking about — he remains the only athletics coach in the country to have guided someone to a World Championships medal. But over the last one year, Shaili has been making that statement look more and more realistic.
Last year, at 14, the Uttar Pradesh girl posted a national record jump of 5.94 at the Junior Nationals in Ranchi. This year, she corrected it thrice at the same edition in Ranchi. First, she jumped 6.01m during qualification. Then she posted a 6.13m leap in the first round of the finals.
Then, with her fifth jump, she did 6.15m. That mark is a national record for the U18s as well. Even more remarkable, she surpassed the qualifying mark for the IAAF World U20 Championships next year. And she’s still just 15!
“She will rule long jump in this country in the coming years. I think,” Robert declares. “Her attitude is right, that’s the best thing. As an athlete, Anju (Bobby George) is there and as a coach, I’m there. We know what to do at what time.”
Raised by a single mother, Shaili joined the Anju Bobby George Sports Foundation nineteen months ago. Her progression since then has been stunning. “She has refined her technique compared to last year — you can see that in her flight also,” says Robert. “I had set her a target of 6.15 this year, she has already achieved it. But she can go beyond 6.30-6.35m.
“Her technique is now seven-metre stuff. But there are many things that she needs to work on. Technique is very complex. But she has already achieved 75 per cent of that. As a coach, I’m very relieved. That will avoid a lot of injuries. We have to work on some of the body balance mechanisms.”
Unlike past athletics prodigies from the country, Shaili, at 15, already has a pretty strong support system around her. Having a world championship-medal-winning athlete in Anju and a Dronacharya-winning coach in Robert is impressive enough. She is also supported by Olympic Gold Quest and can count on the Abhinav Bindra Centre in Bengaluru for rehab support. But Robert believes more can be done.
“We could always use better support because an investment in an athlete like Shaili will never be a waste,” he says. “We need a top class masseur and physio. Fear of injury is one of the things that prevent you from going all out.”