He had the reigning women’s 100 m hurdles world champion and Olympic contender Sally Pearson cheering him on,at the Belgium National Athletics Championship at Bruxelles two weeks ago. Siddhanth Thingalaya started well enough on his 110 m track to raise hopes of joining his training-mate and inspiration at London. Till the hamstring acted up with a single searing shot of pain and forced him to limp from the ninth hurdle onwards leaving the 21-year-old talented Indian hurdler 5/100th of a second short of clinching the Olympics qualifying berth.
He straggled forward,watching Adrien Deghelt zip past him from a distant second. And though Siddhanth still notched his fifth straight national record at 13.65 seconds and a silver on the Belgian podium,the 6’3″ lad was devastated on missing out the 13.60 qualifying mark narrowly,after bettering his personal mark for the second time in as many weeks.
Sally was a rock,alongside coach Sharon Hannan,and they both knew as soon as I twitched that the hamstring was strained, he says,forced to cool his heels and soothe his hamstring at home in Mumbai – his London dream ending abruptly as he fails to recover in time for the last of the meets in Europe. Sally always says it’s only about jumping over the next hurdle,and never complicate the sport, Siddhanth says,having now to recalibrate his progress,revise his goals – and aim instead for a breakthrough season in the lead-up to World Championships at Moscow in 2013.
Hell head back to Australia,watch the Games on TV,pop in some chocolate to get over the sulk,even as he reflects on the missed opportunity just when he was peaking this season.
Pearson,the 25-year-old Australian champion hurdler,who shares her coach Hannan with the lanky Indian,had been stationed at her training base in Germany and had driven down to Brussels for the weekend to lend her support to coach and ward.
There’s so much to learn from her,though we always end up never talking on athletics. She’s an inspiration because she’s always said that don’t look at hurdles as dreadful barriers,but something to smoothly jump over, he says,soon after an intense massage and taping session in Mumbai that aims at relieving him of the strain. I can jog now,but my left leg is still weak,so that will need strengthening, he says of his lead-leg that goes over the hurdles.
Ever since the Commonwealth Games,and shifting base to Australia,Siddhanth has shown steady improvements post his first national record. This came on the back of grossly primitive training that included running up the Powai hill and lugging hurdles about Kandivali’s synthetic tracks,after he was scouted from a community-meet at Andheri at age 11. Since being assigned to Hannan and benefitting from an Aussie trainer,Siddhanth has gone on from 13.81 seconds to progressively clock 13.77s,13.69s and 13.65s in 20 months.
At Belgium,he had been in good shape to run 13.50s,and had in the lead-up clocked 10 races under 14 seconds. We have been targetting a timing that will be good enough for the Olympic semifinals,but the injury has hampered that graph, he says. His 10-hour halt at Zurich had left him tired at the heats and finals in Belgium,triggering a doubt if not the injury itself.
Australia’s shaken up his entire training ethos though. The focus is on recovery of muscles after the race,which is as important as training itself,so lots of ice-baths. Here it was only long hours of training. There the focus is on quality and good training partners, he says,adding that his intake of water too is scientific now,having come a long way from stirring juice into coconut water deeming it a healthy concoction here.
His technique’s still unchiselled,Siddhanth admits that he’s disciplining his leg to not come on straight above the hurdle,sharpening the angle at which it can be bent that will shave off a few precious fractional seconds. I’ve worked on my starts,but those can improve too, says the lad who was aiming at becoming the first Indian 110 hurdler at the Olympics since 1964.
Besides Mumbai’s nightlife,Siddhanth Thingalaya has also parted company with his beloved bespectacled look. Glasses affected my running when it rained,so Ive moved to lenses and gotten comfortable. But I wear goggles now,so that’s my style, laughs the towering lad who is a big fan of reigning Olympic champ Dayron Robles,not just for his Beijing gold-winning exploits,but also because he runs at times with his wire-rimmed glasses. Robles was in good company,following in the footsteps of hurdling legend Ed Moses,who looked all scholarly and bespectacled during his decade-long domination. Siddhanth might just strap them on for some favourable luck.