Triple jumper Arpinder Singh overcame a lean patch to land a gold medal with a jump of 16.77m in this edition of the Asian Games. The Athletics Federation of India thinks Arpinder is one of the athletes who can make India proud in the next two years, with important events like the Asian championships and the World championships coming up at Doha in 2019 and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Sportstar spoke to Arpinder to know about his struggle and ambitions.
How did you come to athletics and why did you choose triple jump?
My father, an Armyman, was passionate about sports. He used to play kabaddi, but owing to a knee issue , could not continue. Thus, he wanted me to do well in sports. He guided me and when I was of about 10 years old, I got into athletics. I used to run 100m then but was unable to do well. I didn't even get a medal at district level. Then I tried 200m and then long jump, but failed in these also.
In Amritsar, at the district level, coach D.S. Bahl, who was working with the Sports Authority of India (SAI), advised me to try triple jump. I was very young then and didn't know a thing about triple jump. I spent around three to four months getting used to it. After a year, I got a medal at the state meet in 2006. I was about 15-16 years old then.
A year later, I got a silver medal at the School Nationals in Kolkata.
Then I moved to the Sports Hostel at Jalandhar and was groomed well by S.S. Pannu for three years till 2015. Although, I was very fond of fast food, I had to cut down on it after he told me that in order to achieve something, I must make some sacrifices. Under his guidance, I notched 17.17m in 2014.
At that time I was ranked number one in Asia and six in the world. I won the Commonwealth Games bronze medal in 2014.
Why did your career assume a standstill for some time?
I went abroad for training under John Herbert. But the duration was short (for the Olympics qualifier). If you work on one technique for eight years, then it is not easy to make sudden changes to it. I could not do what the foreign coach told me and was getting away from my old technique. That was in the Olympic year, 2016.
Herbert was a good coach and former CWG champion. He has produced Olympic medallists. I think I could not follow what he asked me to do. Maybe if I could have had a year's training with him, I would have done better. I could not do well and in the Federation Cup I got a bronze medal, and again in the in inter-state meet (Olympics trials) I didn't land a medal.
It was a shocking period. I went into depression. I was thinking of achieving 17.40m, 17.50m, but performed badly. People said a lot of things.
The 10-11 months in London was a tough time. I had to do everything, including cooking, on my own. I had to spend a lot of time travelling. So I bought a cycle. But it was difficult travelling 13-14 km everyday on a cycle in extreme cold conditions. I had doubts whether I could do well.
But I have learnt a lot from there -- what were the eating habits, what food supplements to take, how to have a proper diet etc.
It was said that you should have a lot of green salad and vegetables. No need to eat only rotis or apples or any particular food. Every food has its role, but it has to be taken in the right amount.
How did it help to be back in India?
My father is a positive person. He told me 'It's not about whether you can do it or not. You have done it before and can do it again.' That imparted a lot of positivity. You get to know what is going wrong and get to work on it.
As I could not qualify for the Olympics, I thought I had lost everything. I did nothing for two months, not even warm-ups. That gave me time to think afresh and I began to work hard. At that time, my weight was 89kg. In about two to three months I brought it down to 81kg. Within one year, in 2017, at the Federation Cup in Patiala, I achieved a distance of 16.75m and missed the World championship qualification mark by 5 cm.
For the last two years I am at the National camp in Thiruvananthapuram. Here, you don't have to toil about each and everything and life is a lot more easier. There are no distractions, nobody vists you and no one invites you to any function.
Initially, I found it difficult as Punjab and Kerala have completely different cultures. The language issue is there. Still I did not mind being away from home. Hard work pays.
Now I am back to my range and am prepared for next year. Last year, it was okay. My coach Jayakumar managed everything, including training and diet well. He has done a lot for me.
At the inter-state meet in Guwahati this year I notched 17.09m and I thought the national record was now well within reach. But there was humidity. I went to Jakarta a week before my event was scheduled.
I did not do too much of training as I did not want to exhaust myself. I put on a wind cheater and as I could not drink much water, I suffered from cramps. After the gold medal was assured, I went through the motion in the last two jumps. I gave my best at the Asian Games.
What is your next target?
I feel nothing is difficult. Now the primary target is doing well in the World championships, Olympics assuming the secondary place.
I think I can go past the current National record (17.30m by Renjith Maheshwary) by the World championships (in Doha in September and October next year). That's the main target before me. I think the qualifying mark will be around 16.80m.
How are you planning to go for the National record?
I am going step by step. My technique has improved. It's a good sign.
I feel things will become better. The target is to achieve around 17.40m to 17.50m by 2020 if God forbid, I do not get injured.
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