On Sunday, Shaili, 17, won the silver medal at the World U20 Championships in Nairobi with a jump of 6.59 metres (wind assisted), finishing behind European junior champion Maja Askag of Sweden by one centimetre.
Anju Bobby George, the 2003 World Championship bronze medallist, is certain about Shaili Singh breaking her long-standing national record of 6.83 metres. The 17-year-old from Jhansi, who trains in Bengaluru, has the potential to win an Olympic medal, Anju believes.
On Sunday, Shaili, 17, won the silver medal at the World U20 Championships in Nairobi with a jump of 6.59 metres (wind assisted), finishing behind European junior champion Maja Askag of Sweden by one centimetre. Her previous best was 6.48 metres, but a wind speed of 2.2 metres per second means her best jump on Sunday won’t be entered in the record books though she finished second.
“She can improve on the national record. Our main target for Shaili is to help her finish on the podium at the Olympic Games, which is the most valuable thing. If our trainee can win a medal, I will consider it as my own,” Anju says.
Anju set the national record at the 2004 Athens Olympics where she finished fifth.
Shali is mentored by Anju and coached by her husband Robert Bobby George, a high-performance coach with the Sports Authority of India (SAI).
Shaili came under Robert’s wings when she was 14, much earlier than Anju who was about 20 when Robert started coaching her. Getting formal coaching early meant Shaili didn’t pick up any technical flaws which are difficult to correct as one grows older.
“I was able to achieve whatever I could because of Robert. I had a taped leg and only one kidney. So if you look at it, Shaili has great potential,” Anju adds.
A young Shaili could have gone unnoticed at a junior championship nearly four years ago if not for Robert looking beyond the medallists.
Robert saw a thin long jumper finishing outside the medal positions at the national junior athletics meet in Vijayawada. He forgot to capture her approach on the runway, take-off and flight on his phone. But the 14-year-old from Jhansi stood out because of her lean muscle tone and strong will.
Robert didn’t recall her name back then. When he returned home, he told his wife Anju to keep an eye out at the next competition.
Less than a week later, Anju was at the Inter-district Junior Championships in Visakhapatnam. One look at Shaili and she knew who her husband was talking about. Anju shot a video and forwarded it to Robert. A few months later, Shaili, after being assessed by experts at SAI, was making her way to Bengaluru where the couple are based.
Anju said she knew the youngster had the potential to win international medals when she saw her in Visakhapatnam.
“She was a rough diamond. To be able to find an athlete with potential is a valuable thing. We knew if we guided her, she would make it big,” Anju says.
Shaili was also blessed with fast-twitch muscles which help an athlete produce sudden bursts of energy and are ideal for sprinters and jumpers. “It is because of her genes that she has this muscle type,” Anju says.
A steely determination and positive attitude, despite not winning a medal, was visible when Anju watched her jump at the age-group event.
“She was jumping about 4.50 metres but I could see her competitive spirit. She was running awkwardly but I thought she had potential. When she started training with Robert, it was clear she was very bright when it came to picking up technical advice. If you told her something just once, she had the ability to immediately understand and follow it. Moreover, she was ready to take on the training schedule without any hesitation,” Anju says of Shaili, who is part of the Target Olympic Podium Scheme jumps academy.
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