She once ran barefoot with blisters on her feet. Today, Shaili Singh is the world’s No. 1 in the under-18 long jump.
New Delhi: With a smooth jump covering 6.15m at the Interstate Track and Field Championship in Patiala, Shaili Singh on Saturday broke a record which has remained intact for 21 years. In two more laps, the long jumper Jhansi not only broke the national youth bar of 6.10m, but also the national under-20 record (6.30m) with a distance of 6.38m. and finally his own record, jumping 6.48 m. In a way, Singh was competing with herself.
Anju Bobby George, the former world long jump champion and the first Indian athlete to win a medal at the World Championships, shared the news on Twitter this weekend: âThis is an extremely emotional moment for all of us. , considering all the hard work and effort we have put in to get this far. Forward and up! (sic) â
So proud of Shaili’s achievement! A 6.48m jump to create a new NR, and raise its U-20 world ranking to No. 1 (youth U-18 category).
It is an extremely emotional time for all of us, considering all the hard work and effort that we have put in to get this far. Forward and up! pic.twitter.com/A7ld1UWKRn
– Anju Bobby George (@ anjubobbygeorg1) June 26, 2021
No one, however, seems to be prouder or more satisfied than the man who has coached Singh since 2018 – Robert Bobby George, who is also the husband of Anju Bobby George.
Robert first spotted Singh at a junior competition in 2017. Only 13 at the time and weighing just 38kg, Singh was jumping a distance of 4.63m, which is hardly a spectacular feat. But what caught her attention, Robert told ThePrint, was a certain spark in the young athlete that showed just how determined she could be.
âShe knew she wasn’t going to win a medal, but she was doing all the same then. Call it a coach’s eye, but I knew it was something special, âsaid Robert.
A month ago, Robert brought up this old competition with Singh. He asked her what she had thought then. âShe told me she was bloating. She said she didn’t have a coach at the timeâ¦ so she was just thinking, âCome on, Shaili, you can do it,â he said.
Perhaps it was this same courage that helped Singh overcome the many obstacles to become the world number 1 in the Under-18 category, in addition to setting a new Under-20 record in India. One of three siblings raised by a single mother, Singh faced financial burdens, moved nearly 1,700 km from Jhansi to Bengaluru to be successful.
Daughter of a tailor, day meals were sometimes a luxury for Singh. However, it was her mother who encouraged the teenager to play sports, Singh had said.
âForget the crampons, we couldn’t even afford a normal pair of running shoesâ¦ I started running barefoot and often came home with blisters on my feet. My mother would cry at the sight, Singh said in another interview.
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“Shaili is an Olympic medal contender, will overtake Anju”
A week after Robert first spotted her at the junior competition, Singh also caught the attention of his wife Anju at another competition in Visakhapatnam. âWe both noticed the same person without knowing the other had done it,â said Robert.
In early 2018, Singh had moved to Bengaluru to train with Robert. âShe approached me very shyly, hiding behind another athlete, wondering if I wanted to train her. I asked him jokingly, “Are you going to grow taller?” Robert remembers of the 2017 junior championship.
But Robert was aware that it wasn’t just his athletic skills that Singh needed to work on. He knew that she came from difficult circumstances and that she barely had money to spend on anything, he knew that her mother had to borrow money to buy a plane ticket to send the girl in Bangalore.
âWhether the system supports it or not is secondary is now our (Anju and my) responsibility,â he told ThePrint.
In training, the main goal was to make sure that Singh’s physique improved and that she gained weight. In 10 months, she ended up gaining 13 kg.
The other objective was to correct its fundamentals. On this point, Robert thinks the task is easier and, in fact, this is one of the reasons why he thinks the teenager could continue to outdo Anju.
“She (Singh) came to see me very young … so there was no unlearning to do, which is very difficult,” said Robert. Anju won her first medal at the age of 25.
In November 2018, a year after Singh was spotted by the Georges, the athlete was noticed by the Olympics Gold Quest (OGQ) during a competition. A non-profit sports foundation, the OGQ unearths talent and manages athletes. Singh also received additional support from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) – she helped support her family using her stipend and scholarship.
The efforts paid off in November 2019 when Singh broke the national Under-16 and Under-18 record with a 6.15m jump. Aged 16 at the time, she had also qualified for the World Junior Championships, which are reserved for under-20s.
When we see her take that big, smooth leap, it’s clear that Singh is serious. There is a singular emphasis on distance. When she lands, she casually backs up, preparing for her next jump.
In one previous interview, the seemingly shy teenager said she was happy to have qualified for the World Championships, but knew she still had a lot to do in the future.
âI was telling Anju, there is something special about this child. She is very receptive and her learning ability is far superior to that of other athletes. The country can expect much more from Shaili. She will be a candidate for a medal at the 2024, 2028 and 2032 Olympics, âsaid Robert confident.
“Still a lot of work to do”
At this point, Robert sees himself not only as Singh’s coach, but also his buffer from the rest of the world.
” I do not want [her] to face the media for now, it is only 11th standard. Don’t put the pressure onâ¦ if she wins a medal at the World Championships, then maybe. There’s still a lot of work to do now, âhe said when ThePrint also asked to speak to Singh.
On Robert’s methods, Singh’s official OGQ official said the coach made a big difference for the athlete as he was familiar with the circuit and selectively chooses which tournaments she participates in which is Very important.
âShe jumped 6.48m after a 19-month gap, she’s capable of a lot more. But we have to take it step by step, âthe official said.
For now, the focus remains the world championship to be held in August.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)
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