CHENNAI: Just before the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi, India’s only senior world championships medallist, Anju Bobby George, said this apropos Shaili Singh. “She is in that 6.60m range.” On Sunday, her words were prophetic. The distance Shaili managed to clear in her third attempt was 6.59m, enough to fetch her a historic silver behind Sweden’s Maja Askag in the long jump final. The Swede jumped 6.60m.
Sometimes, a nudge in the back is all that an athlete needs to produce the best. In this case, Shaili was pushed to fourth after Tessy Ebosele produced 6.45m with her first jump. Shaili’s second jump was identical to her first: 6.34m.Only one jump. Just one leap... that’s all that matters. Shaili knew about it.
But what was impressive about her mark of 6.59m (wind assisted) — on her third attempt — is that the 17-year-old not only produced her personal best but is even threatening to overshadow her mentor and coach, Anju. The glitter is even sweeter for Anju and her husband and coach Robert Bobby George. The two fought their way through the world when government aid and support were not as quite forthcoming as it is now. They know how difficult it is to produce champions in the present set-up. Yet the two undertook this perilous journey to produce champions in a discipline both knew about and loved.
After the second jump, the girl from Jhansi looked distressed. She was shaking her head. She knew she was capable of doing better. Her movement across the track was smooth, she gained enough momentum and leaped. Her jump off the ground and the last lunge forward too looked good. There is one step that she would have to take a relook. She was off the take off board by a few centimetres. She went to speak with her coach and Robert George pointed out that there was enough space between the foul mark and her take-off. “I just told her to take full advantage of the take off board,” Robert told this newspaper from Nairobi. “It is 20cm wide and if she manages a perfect take-off she would clear 6.54m. But she did 6.59m. It’s all her effort and the way she kept her focus is commendable.”
Even during her greatest triumph, Shaili did not forget the hardhip her mother, Vinita, endured back home in UP. “She (Vinita is a single parent) has gone through a lot but she is a very strong lady,” she said. “Even before the meet I had spoken to her and she said I would win gold. Hopefully, next time I shall.” In fact it was her mother who helped her take up the sport.
Shaili was picked by Anju and Robert during an inter-disctrict competition when she was just 14. Since then she has been nurtured at the Anju Bobby George academy in Bengaluru. Shaili has not gone home since December last year despite lockdown. When the second lockdown was announced and the hostel at the Bengaluru SAI centre was shut, she had to shift to Anju’s house in Kengeri. The athlete is part of the Target Olympic Podium Scheme’s development group. “We had to even dig a pit for her to jump during lockdown and the girls were training and cooking and taking care of the hostel,” Robert said.
Another aspect that Robert had been emphasising was scouting an athlete at a proper age. “When we spotted her she was 14, it was a perfect age,” he said. “It is very difficult to unlearn. The brain’s ability to learn and retain is key. We have to think about brain’s neuroplasticity. If something has already been registered it takes a lot of time to change. We were lucky to have got such a talented youngster so early.” Anju too was delighted. “I have been saying that she is capable of doing 6.60m. She is very good and we hope to nurture her more.”
TN triple jumper Donald finishes fourth
Tamil Nadu's M Donald missed out on a medal by a narrow margin as he finished fourth in the men's triple jump final on the final day of the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya, on Sunday. He also achieved his personal best on the occasion, with a jump of 15.82m in his fifth attempt. The 19-year-old is originally from Tiruchy but currently trains in Coimbatore.
3 India finish campaign with 3 medals, their best performance ever