S. Siva — Pole vaulting into record books

On June 1 this year, Siva became the first from Tamil Nadu in 20 years to create a National record in pole vault at the senior level. He did it in the Federation Cup held in Patiala with a jump of 5.14m.

National pole vault champion S. Shiva poses for a photo after a training session at the Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Saturday.   -  V. Ganesan

S. Siva started as a self-taught swimmer having “fun” beneath the Kallanai Dam in Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu). But he soon picked up the sport and started to win medals at district events in freestyle, butterfly and backstroke events.

But things changed once he started to see his older brother do pole vault at St. Joseph’s College, Tiruchi.

His parents were not keen on pole vault; they wanted him to continue swimming. But Siva was adamant. Aided by a common friend, he came to Chennai to train under coach Don Wilcox at the Nehru Stadium in 2013.

In four years, the 18-year-old has done what none from the State has done — create a National record in both the junior and senior level.

On June 1 this year, Siva became the first from Tamil Nadu in 20 years to create a National record at the senior level. He did it in the Federation Cup held in Patiala with a jump of 5.14m. In fact, he defeated K.P. Bimin, who held the National record of 5.13 till then.

“I felt good. But I thought I could have done much better. While going for 5.22m, my dress just kissed the bar and fell. But I am happy to have repaid the faith my coach had in me. He told me that you can do it,” said Siva, after a rigorous training session with Wilcox here on Saturday.

Son of Subramaniam, a coolie in Thanjavur, Siva finds it difficult to make ends meet, but he is helped by Wilcox and Loyola College [he has discontinued his education after he got a job with Army in May].

Siva made the fraternity sit up and take notice when he created a new meet record in the junior Federation Cup in Hyderabad (4.80m) in 2015 and then he rewrote the record books again in the Junior National championship in Ranchi with a jump of 4.85m.

The National inter-state senior meet in Hyderabad last year saw him do 4.90m — a very good effort given this was his first senior event.

Wilcox, who coaches around 18 pole vaulters for free, said Siva is a naturally gifted athlete. “As a junior he was outstanding. He has a good physique, has an attacking power [in his hands and legs] and is daring in his attempts.”

All the athletes were unanimous that better facilities should be made available to train at the Nehru Stadium, and insisted that it was because of coach Wilcox and not because of the authorities that they are able to train confidently. “The mats we got after fighting with the SDAT authorities for a long time. But that is not enough. We need better quality mats, side posts are not even and the crossbar is sub-standard. Our coach [Wilcox] is using his own contacts to get imported poles [sticks],” said one.

Having got a job with Army (Pune) after being snubbed by a Government Institution, Siva is enthusiastic and eager to do well in the Asian championship in Bhubaneswar next month. “I told them [Army] that I will train only under Wilcox and will do well at Bhubaneswar. I have taken a gamble,” said Siva.

Reigning women's National record holder in pole vault V.S. Surekha said Siva has a very good chance of getting a medal at the Asian meet. “His technique is good, he is talented, has no fear. He is one of the few pole vaulters who can control his body action from the take-off to the jump,” she said, while predicting that Siva can beyond the mark of 5.30m mark.

If he does get a medal of any hue, it would do wonders not just for him but for the sport as well.