Pole vault star Siva ready to soar, with hearing and speech impaired coach Gerald Wilcox

With Gerald by his side, Siva, who returned to action after two years, won gold at the Services Championships earlier this month with 5.20m, the best by an Indian this year.

S. Siva and Gerald Wilcox

S. Siva (R) with coach Gerald Wilcox.   -  Sportstar

S. Siva, the pole vault national record holder, breaks the National Open Athletics Championship meet record with an attempt of 5.12m, but he is chasing more in Warangal on Saturday. The gold medal confirmed, the 25-year-old athlete from Tamil Nadu raises the bar to 5.20m, under the hawk-eyed gaze of his coach Gerald Wilcox.

The plan is to inch up to breaking Siva's own national record of 5.30m, which he set three years ago. Training sessions in Chennai before the meet have gone well. However, Siva knocks down the bar at 5.20m on his first try. He walks over to Gerald, who gestures animatedly with his hands.

Gerald is the son of Don Wilcox, Siva's former coach. Gerald, 43, is hearing and speech impaired and a two-time pole vault silver medallist at the Deaflympics -- Melbourne 2005 and Taipei 2009. Siva had set his national record in 2018 under the guidance of Don, who had coached him since 2013. Don passed away due to Covid-19 earlier this year.

Gerald is eager to carry forward his father’s legacy by continuing to coach the athletes who were under Don. With Gerald by his side, Siva, who returned to action after two years, won gold at the Services Championships earlier this month with 5.20m, the best by an Indian this year.

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As the crowd favourite, Siva comes in for his final attempt, Gerald has his hands clasped over his mask in anticipation. However, Siva fails to clear the bar set at 5.20m. Gerald turns away and punches the air in dejection. A gold medal here is not enough at this point for the athlete and his coach. 

“He cleared 5.46m in training in Chennai,” says Gerald, betraying his frustration. He quickly goes into what went wrong on the day. “When he [Siva] was running in, he let his hip down,” says Gerald, tapping his hip hard.

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Pole vault national record holder S. Siva at the National Open Athletics Championship in Warangal on Saturday.   -  Sportstar

 

Siva is already processing the learnings from this meet. He lets on that he had fever coming into this meet. "I am not satisfied with this. It’s okay, next time I will do well,” he says.

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Gerald trains more than 20 athletes. “I start my day at 4am. I travel 50km to Chennai from Veppampattu (suburban Chennai) and start training by 9am. I want to look after what my father left behind. I need to uphold my father’s name,” he says. One of his athletes, Surya, who is at the stadium, says, “He doesn’t even have breakfast before coming to look after us.”

Gerald says he can’t understand Tamil. He lip-reads English and is able to put forward his thoughts with a mix of words and gestures to his trainees. “They can understand. No problem. I give the workout, and whoever does it wrong, I suggest the corrections and help them make the changes.”

Gerald is hopeful of seeing an Indian pole vaulter in the Olympics within the next decade, but before that, he wants to help Siva make a mark in the Asian Games. 

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