Shaili Singh seeks reset to qualify for Paris

Three years ago, when Shaili Singh leapt 6.59m to win the women’s long jump silver medal at the under-20 World Championships, she was seen as a rising star in Indian athletics. While that tag is still justified as she has consistently been among the three best women long jumpers in India, her struggles to push her boundaries since that Nairobi high cannot be ignored.

Uttar Pradesh’s Shaili Singh competes in women’s long jump event.(PTI)

At the Indian Grand Prix 1 in Bengaluru last month, she jumped 6.52m to take the top spot, and 10 days earlier, 6.40m was enough to give her the second spot at the Indian Open Jumps Competition. The Paris Olympics qualification mark though is 6.86m — no Indian woman has ever leapt that far.

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Shaili’s mentor Anju Bobby George and coach Robert Bobby George, who train her at the Anju Bobby High Performance Centre in Bengaluru, are confident the 20-year-old will not only qualify for her maiden Olympics but has the potential to consistently jump in the range of 6.80m. If she doesn’t achieve the qualification mark, then Shaili — she is currently world No.37 — must rise to the top 32 and stay there till the June 30 cut-off date.

“Qualifying by entry standard will be superb, but we are targetting the rankings route,” Robert said.

Anju is confident Shaili can come close to 6.86m in the qualification period. “All she needs are some minor technical adjustments. These things take time to become muscle memory but Shaili can certainly break my national record,” she said. Anju’s mark of 6.83m has stood for 20 years; Shaili’s best is 6.76m achieved last year.

“I would back her among the current crop to break my record. If she does it at the Olympics, that’ll be a wonderful story,” Anju said.

Paris Olympics, should she make it, will be a great learning curve for Shaili. India will also hope Hangzhou Asian Games silver medallist Ancy Sojan (PB 6.63) and Nayana James (PB 6.67m) are also in the qualification conversation.

Although the season-leading effort by Tara Davis (USA) is 7.18m and many others jump around the 7m mark, Robert is ambitious. “Our target is a top-eight finish, and even that will take a few perfect jumps from her,” he says.

For starters, Shaili must jump over 6.80m consistently. That means 6.70m-plus jumps in training. “Usually, there’s a 10cm increment from training to competitions because we give 3-4 days of recovery time before the events. As of now, she jumps 6-60-6.65m in training.”

Robert and Anju have identified key technical areas to work on. It also involves better energy distribution in her 34.5m run-up.

“We’ve to adjust her centre of mass just before take-off and improve her hip extension during the take-off. She needs to hold herself longer in the air to add distance,” Robert said.

“It is all about energy distribution, which means a progressive build-up of momentum. That’s not happening of late, especially in the last six of her 16-18 strides.

“It all depends on how you are feeling on the day, stride length, number of strides, and so on. Perfection comes with repetitions and more competitions. Sometimes, due to the adrenaline rush, you end up putting a lot of effort early in the approach and lose energy later. That messes up the momentum. She is still very young and this psychological control will come with time. Physically, she has become stronger but I would prefer more upper body strength, especially in her shoulders,” Robert said.

Shaili has also grappled with injuries and illness. A lower-back injury sidelined the Uttar Pradesh jumper for about nine months in 2022. Last year, she took three months to recover after a bout of Covid-19. A disappointing fifth-place finish followed at the Asian Games, where a bad landing led to a shoulder injury. Ancy Sojan won silver.

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