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Shaili Singh: Made for the long jump

As she watched the young long-jumpers at the inter-District Nationals in Visakhapatnam a little more than a year ago, something struck Anju Bobby George about a girl from Jhansi.

Just 13 then, Shaili Singh did not make an impact on the results board in the under-14 event, finishing fifth with 4.93m. But Anju was excited. A week earlier, her husband Bobby George had felt the same way at the junior Nationals in Guntur.

It did not take long for the famed duo to pick the girl for the Anju Bobby Sports Foundation, which is being run as a junior national camp, at Bengaluru’s SAI Centre.

“When we see an athlete, we sort of know how she could develop,” explains Anju, the country’s lone senior World Championships medallist (long jump bronze; Paris 2003). “And when I saw Shaili, her muscle formation, her explosiveness, her aggressiveness during the competition, I felt she had all the qualities to be a top jumper.”

After some tinkering from coach Bobby, without breaking the young girl’s natural rhythm, Shaili began to show her potential. She broke the under-16 National Record with a very impressive 5.94m effort at the junior Nationals in Ranchi.

“This girl is made for the long jump,” said an elated Bobby after the big leap. “The interesting thing is, she is just 14, she started serious sport less than 17 months ago and now she is close to six metres. This is world-class performance for her age, and if you compare her with Anju at 14, Shaili is in fact 50 to 60 centimetres ahead.”

Anju and Bobby are thrilled, for they feel they may have found the athlete who could bring the country the elusive Olympic medal.

“Yes, I think so and that’s my dream. I have high hopes for Deepanshi Singh too. And I hope one of my girls breaks my National Record (6.83m),” says Anju.

“I think Shaili has the capacity to go as far as Anju,” says Bobby. “We have six trainees in our centre, and Shaili is the most talented of the lot and Deepanshi is very hard working. But to do well at the international level, it may take five to six years of continuous training.”

The Anju Bobby centre is unique. Nowhere else in the country do you have a Worlds bronze medallist and the coach who took her that far, guiding athletes under one roof. This offers the best of both worlds to athletes.

“I know I’ve done seven metres in training so I want to teach my athletes to do something similar,” says Anju. “Small things matter, I know how your hands should be positioned for a big jump, how your legs should be positioned, how your hips should be locked…these small things which a coach cannot teach, I can teach them.”

The camp is virtually a long-jump centre, and Shaili, who turned 15 a few days ago, is clearly the girl to watch.

“She is 1.69m tall and though young, she is mentally very strong. She has clarity about everything,” says Bobby. “We have changed her technique, from hang to the hitch-kick, but as an athlete, she is not even 30% complete when it comes to technique. But even with her current motor qualities, she can go 25 to 30cms farther.”

But Bobby is not pushing her.

“It will take more than a year to compete internationally, because she has to turn 16, so why push her? She is rather new, so we have left her in her natural state. I am just concentrating on her running skills and synchronised movements, and she has improved nicely in these things. We are not pushing her into advanced technique; we will start that later.”

Shaili has come a long way in a short while: she was introduced to the sport two years ago, when her mother noticed a small item in a local newspaper about selection trials for a sports hostel in Lucknow. She is now in good hands, for, apart from imparting top-class coaching, the Anju Bobby centre also takes care of her academic expenses and flies her to competitions.

The foundation, which has long jump World Record holder Mike Powell as a consultant coach, is young and has set high goals for its athletes. But Olympic medals don’t come cheap. Care, support and funding are of the essence if athletes like Shaili are to go from strength to strength.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2021 8:45:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/made-for-the-long-jump/article26093469.ece

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