Tokyo Olympics: Triple-jumper Arpinder Singh confident of breaching qualification mark once training resumes
'I am confident of going past the Olympic qualification mark. I was in good form before the lockdown, and frankly, jumping 17 metres is not an impossible task,' Arpinder said.
New Delhi: When Arpinder Singh stood on the Asian Games podium on 29 August 2018 with solemn strains of national anthem playing in the background, he would have dreamt of a veritable giant leap that would turn his stop-start career around. His best effort of 16.77 metres had ended India's 48-year wait for gold at the continental showpiece, and the strapping Punjab athlete was instantly billed for greater successes. Twenty two months have passed since that victorious day - incidentally, it was the National Sports Day - and safe to say, nothing of that sort has materialised.
Arpinder is still a 'promising' athlete, still a few paces from being a medal contender at world events, and still slogging in dusty nothingness. A spate of botched-up preparations means that the Olympics qualification mark of 17.14 metres appears a distant possibility, but a possibility nevertheless.
Arpinder, positive as athletes must be, is confident of breaching the qualification mark, and the coronavirus -induced postponement of Tokyo Games has come as a blessing in disguise. "I am confident of going past the Olympic (qualification) mark. I was in good form before the lockdown was imposed, and frankly, jumping 17 metres is not an impossible task. I have done it before, and will do it again," he told Firstpost from Jalandhar.
The assertion may appear a touch rich, given Arpinder has jumped 17 metres or beyond in competitions just twice in his entire career, the last of which was an effort of 17.09 metres at the National Inter-State Athletics Meet in Guwahati in June 2018. His other over-17 metre jump came in 2014, when he lept 17.17 metres in Lucknow to break the then national record. A bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games followed, after which, he went on an 11-month stint at the London Coaching Foundation under 1986 CWG triple jump champion John Herbert.
Things started going downhill thereafter. He couldn't get used to weather and food, his performances dipped, he failed to adapt to the changes in his technique. The promised big leap never came. The story repeated itself after the Asian Games high four years later.
He went to Chula Vista Elite Athletics Training Centre in the US under the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme to train under Jeremy Fischer, but was called back after a few months to participate in the Federation Cup (March 2019) in Patiala.
"When I went to the US, it was their off-season and I was still getting used to the climate, training methods and food. I would have preferred an uninterrupted six-month stint at the very least, but SAI called me back after about three months. With very little training under my belt, I ended up with a poor performance," Arpinder recalled. What followed was a classic case of Indian sports' officialdom wreaking a promising career. His continued pleas to send him back to the US to resume training fell on deaf ears, and three months were lost to inaction and procrastination.
"I kept asking TOPS officials to send me back, but they kept postponing. Ultimately, '2-3 days' turned into a three-month loss and I decided I have had enough. So I cancelled my US plans altogether."
Asked to stay in Patiala, Arpinder trained with athletes that gave him no competition, and the performances began to drop.
"Training in National Institue of Sports (NIS) Patiala was not helping. I had no competition or coaches. I used to roam about all alone with nothing to do. Everyone here was at the same level as me, so there was no motivation to push myself," he said.
A stint under Antony Yaich at the Inspire Institute of Sports (IIS) in Bellary followed, but after a below-par trip to South Africa, he decided to go back to Kerala State Sports Council coach PB Jaikumar.
"Me and Jaikumar sir go back a long way. He understands my game very well and I am very comfortable with him. I am not a 20-year-old anymore, which means I cannot go on trying different things. I was jumping really well in Thiruvanathapuram under Jaikumar sir," he said.
Arpinder arrived in his hometown Amritsar this March in the lead-up to the Federation Cup that was scheduled to be held in Patiala from 10-13 April, but the coronavirus situation threw a spanner on his plans. He ended up locked down, his plans to ace the competition and gear up for Tokyo deferred until further notice.
Arpinder arranged for some weights and benches at his place and continued his strength training along with specific movement and mobility workouts. This has ensured his muscle mass is intact and the weight is in check. "I have a stretch of about 20-25 metres in front of my house, so I try to sprint. I do weights and bench presses at home, which has kept me in decent shape. However, there is no skill-based or technical workout whatsoever. I have gained about one or one-and-a-half kgs, but that's no big deal. That excess can be shed very easily."
While the loss of muscle memory and form are genuine concerns, Arpinder is already worried about his diminishing endurance and depleting cardiovascular strength. The barren stretch that Arpinder refers to is not exactly a racing track, and the absence of pit has ruled out any jumping practice.
"I think it will take me at least 30-45 days to return to the level that I was at. I am quite surprised to see how quickly the cardiovascular strength drops. I tire after just 5-10 minutes of running...it feels I have sprinted for 15-20 minutes. So yes, it will take at least a month and a half to regain that strength. Then, there's skill training too. It is something that I have missed out on completely and I can't wait to resume."
Like most athletes, Arpinder is finding it difficult to stay at home, given years of living out of suitcases and a body conditioned for outdoors. The 27-year-old, by his own admission, is bored, and whiles away his time watching videos of his past performances.
"I look to find my chinks and see what I can do better. What more can one do? The first week or so under lockdown was easy because I was home after so long. But then, since you're not used to staying at home, you start getting uncomfortable.
"Even though I work out at home, there is enough time to kill. My cousins have joined their respective offices, so it's just me and my mother at home and nothing to do. I sleep and train and watch videos, nothing else. That's why I have come to a friend's place in Jalandhar," he said.
With the COVID-19 situation set to change the sports world for conceivable future by way of bio-secure environments and spectator-free arenas, Arpinder is not too flustered with the risks of contracting an infection during training or competitions.
"Obviously, you are bound to be a bit wary, but we have to accept the situation and move on. The risks are all too real, but I follow precautions such as using a mask and not stepping out unless needed. I don't meet many people and always carry a small bottle of sanitiser in my pocket. All I want is to hit the ground running as soon as possible," he concluded, the anticipation of the proverbial giant leap still alive.
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