Triple jump: Arpinder the star, Praveen the fledgling

'Arpinder Singh is the present, Praveen is the future,' says coach Antony Yaich as he divulges his strategy to train the country's triple jump aces.

While Arpinder Singh has strength that he needs to channel with speed, Praveen Chitravel has speed that needs a higher level of strength to go with it.   -  Special Arrangement

A demanding Frenchman, a Punjabi dude and a Tamilian firecracker meet. The Indians play in sand, the Frenchman follows every move with trained eyes.

Hop, step and leap into the world of triple jumpers Arpinder Singh, Praveen Chitravel and coach Antony Yaich. Arpinder, 26, and the colt snapping at his heels, Praveen, 18, have been training together at the Inspire Institute of Sport (IIS) in northern Karnataka's Vijayanagar.

Under Yaich, the head coach for track and field at IIS, both are subject to his training schedules, and his mind games.

READ : Asian Games gold medallist Arpinder Singh to train under Yaich

Arpinder is the star in search of progress and consistency, Praveen the fledgling with promise. Arpinder is in the middle of a chaotic career graph, while Praveen is eyeing a steep upward spike.

Praveen got to work with Yaich first. With a Youth Olympics bronze and a string of solid performances on the national level, he caught the Frenchman's attention. The coach liked Praveen’s speed, but saw room for improvement in technique and offered to take him under his wing.

Once in Vijayanagar, the makeover started for the teen from Thanjavur. Ahead of the Federation Cup, Yaich worked on Praveen’s run-up and landing, his posture and strength. All the while, he goaded the youngster, “You have to crush Arpinder.”

Yaich smiles as Arpinder turns his head and nods, while Praveen flashes a knowing grin. Of course, Arpinder knows the story. “I didn’t know Arpinder well at the time. All I knew was he was one of the best in the country. I wanted to use that as a way to motivate Praveen," says Yaich.

The hype game paid off. Praveen beat Arpinder and the rest to win at the Federation Cup in Patiala, where he also set a national junior record of 16.51 metres. Incidentally, the record he erased (16.45m) belonged to Arpinder, who jumped 16.34m in the meet and did not land a medal.

Arpinder's slump needed attention and he made his way to Vijayanagar. First on Yaich’s agenda – the big strategy reveal. “We were talking bad about you,” Yaich recalls telling Arpinder on his first day.

The Frenchman does see the perils of the strategy to pit the men against each other. “It’s great to have two triple jumpers working together, but we are careful to ensure this doesn’t turn into a fight or something bitter. The only place for a contest is on the track,” he says. “There are consequences to pushing them too hard. When Arpinder tries harder, he ends up using more force which kills speed – which defeats the purpose entirely.”

Cheetah-like speed

Arpinder’s career trajectory has seen sharp rises, but consistency has not been his ally. He clinched gold in the 2018 Asian Games and was the first Indian to win a medal at the IAAF Continental Cup. The goal is to go beyond 17m (Arpinder has already done that, with a best of 17.17m) regularly and stay there.

In June this year, Arpinder won gold in the Pezenas athletics meet in France. His distance – a sub-par 15.85m. “I am shocked with Arpinder’s performance,” national coach Bedros Bedrosian had said then. “For somebody who has jumped above 17m, he should be doing something like 16.70m.”

Arpinder's pursuit not only took him from Patiala to Thiruvananthapuram but also made him cross the seas to try out training options – from California in the US to the UK. Each time, Arpinder came back – a little more disheartened than before. Then came Yaich and the IIS.

Yaich shared a 'shocked' reaction like Bedrosian's when Arpinder jumped 16.35m at the Indian Grand Prix on September 5, after jumping a season's best 16.83m at the 59th Inter-State athletics meet in Lucknow barely eight days earlier.

READ : Indian Grand Prix: Arpinder nowhere near best

“I have no idea what happened, he was fantastic through the weekend. He needs to go home, away from all of it and then come back hungrier,” was the Frenchman's blunt appraisal.

In four months of working together, Yaich has focused on transitioning Arpinder's ‘Sovietic’ style of jumping, which is very forceful at takeoff point, to something smoother.

“Honestly, when Arpinder came here four months ago, I thought it’s going to be tough for him to be able to jump over 17.50m. Those who follow the Soviet style do well for a couple of seasons and then end up with injuries because of the stress they put on their legs, back and core. He was losing too much speed on the last jump because of the level of strength he’d use. As a result, there was a greater height and shorter distance in his jump.

"Jump like a cheetah, I’d tell him and we’ve managed to get him there. He has a flatter and consequentially longer jump now,” Yaich explains.

Arpinder's takeaway is, “Earlier, I was told to focus my strength on the hard plant (on the takeoff board) . Now, I realise that more force won’t make us bounce off any longer. One is just applying three times the force on the limbs. His (Yaich's) advice was to reduce the work I usually do actually, to go smoother.”

It’s hard to unlearn a decade-old process. Yaich is confident they are on the right trajectory. “If you watch videos of how Arpinder jumped earlier and how he jumps now, you’ll see a new jumper. The focus now is that last jump."

“I don’t care who wins. Arpinder is the present and Praveen is evidently the future. I can tell you this though — there will be a good fight between them,” says their coach Antony Yaich, a Frenchman.   -  Lavanya Lakshmi Narayanan

One the present, the other the future

There is a camaraderie between the two athletes. As a senior, Arpinder is available to give Praveen pointers on the mental and physical stresses of the sport. Praveen readily discusses technique variations and cheers the senior on. Yaich takes confidence in the effectiveness of his strategy from this very equation.

“I don’t care who wins. Arpinder is the present and Praveen is evidently the future. I can tell you this though – there will be a good fight between them in the future,” says Yaich.

Learning hasn't been a one-way process among the coach and the athletes. Praveen, for instance, has taught Yaich several Tamil slangs. The Frenchman uses one in particular. “Therika vidalama (ready to rock). It is only a matter of time before Arpinder gets consistent. By the time Praveen catches up, it’s going to be a great national championship scene," says Yaich.