Shaili Singh: Improving by leaps and bounds

Shaili Singh has been consistent above 6m this year, having achieved that in four competitions.

Shaili with coach Robert Bobby George.   -  Special Arrangement

Age: 15

Education: Standard X at St. Benedict’s School, Kengeri, Bengaluru

From: Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh

Discipline: Long jump

Beginning: Three years ago, Shaili’s mother Vinita saw an article in a local daily about selection trials for a sports hostel in Lucknow. That was how her daughter got into the sport.

And something struck Robert Bobby George, who coached his wife Anju George to the country’s first World Championships medal, when he saw Shaili at the Junior Nationals in Guntur two years ago. The 13-year-old long jumper’s performance was not outstanding — she was fifth with 4.64m in the under-14 girls’ category — but the way she went about her jumps impressed Bobby.

“When we see and study an athlete, we know how she will develop. Shaili was nowhere close to a medal in that meet but her muscle formation, reaction from the ground, her aggressiveness during competition… I thought she had all the qualities to be a good jumper. That’s how I selected her to our academy,” says Bobby.

A week later, Bobby's wife Anju also felt the same when she saw Shaili in action in the Inter-District Nationals in Visakhapatnam. And when they compared notes, they were both very excited.

The 15-year-old, from Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, broke the under-16 and under-18 national records at the junior nationals in Guntur recently. Her 6.15m, which came while winning the under-16 gold, also saw her qualify for next year's under-20 World Championships in Kenya.

“She’s a real talent, somebody whom we could nurture to do well at the 2024 Olympics, she could be the poster girl for Indian athletics,” says Anju. Nowadays, Shaili is being trained at the Anju Bobby High Performance Academy in Bengaluru.

Shaili Singh’s immediate focus is on next year’s under-20 worlds.   -  Special Arrangement

Aim: Shaili has been consistent above 6m this year, having achieved that in four competitions. “She can touch 6.30 to 6.40 next year. I think next year she will be consistent over 6.30 in all competitions. That’s my promise. For a 16-year-old, that will be a very, very remarkable achievement,” says Bobby who has been training her for two years.

“She should be ready by 2024, I expect her to be a medal contender in the 2024 (Paris) Olympics. I’m not talking about a medal but she will be a contender. She will turn 20 by then. She has to go beyond 6.80m by then and could be breaking Anju’s record around that time.” Shaili’s immediate focus is on next year’s under-20 Worlds.

“I hope that she finishes among the top eight. If she can rectify certain things, she can even touch 6.50 next year. Last year, the Junior Worlds gold went only for 6.51. She can jump in the 6.30 to the 6.50 range next year,” says Bobby.

“If she goes above 6.50, we can expect a medal at the worlds. And in 2022, she is capable of winning a medal at the under-20 Worlds and can also aim for the Asian Games gold that year.”

Strong point: Both Anju and Bobby are impressed by Shaili’s grasping power.

“It's a joy to see somebody do what we tell her, she has got that grasping power. And she’s fearless, not scared of anything. It’s tough to get somebody like that at her age,” says Anju.

The young girl is a coach’s delight.

“She may not understand the technical complexities of her sport, but whatever I say in simple words, she is able to grasp it and try it. She is ready to attempt anything, whether it is a cartwheel or front roll, or horizontal bar exercise. If I tell her to climb a tree, she will do that too,” says Bobby.

“And she has got good ground reaction, her speed is very good, in fact she is a speed jumper. Her strongest point is that she is psychologically very strong, she is very focused.

“Despite being young, Shaili does not want to depend on her mother. You wouldn’t believe it, but at 15, she is supporting her 11-year-old brother’s studies by paying ₹5,000 every month out of whatever scholarship she is getting. She is a very brave girl, thinks independently.”

With Olympic Gold Quest also coming in to support her, Shaili is slowly getting ready for big time.

But proper care should be taken to ensure that she is injury-free.

“Recovery and rehab are the only concerns for us. If our group of athletes gets a full-time lady masseur, it will help us in a big way,” says Bobby.

What they say

Shaili is fearless, she's not scared of anything. It's tough to get somebody like that at her age. She could be the poster girl for Indian athletics in the next few years,” says Anju Bobby George, the country's lone World Championship medallist, who inspires and guides the young long jumper.

Her achievements

2019: Under-16 gold medallist at the National Junior Championship, Guntur, in November 2019 with 6.15m (betters national records in the under-16 (OR, own 5.94m) and under-18 age groups (OR, 6.10m, Ruta Patkar).

2018: Under-16 gold medallist at National Junior Championship, in Ranchi in November, with 5.94m, new national record.