Jagbir Singh, Arpinder Singh’s father, remembers the first time he took his son for athletics training, from Harsha Chinna Ucha Kila village to the Gurunanak Stadium in Amritsar. A retired havildar, Jagbir wanted Arpinder to pursue running under coach DB Bal, for it was his passion during his service days. “I used to run a lot during my training at the regiment. So I wanted him to be an athlete,” he recollects.
However, the coach found that Aprinder had heavy legs, and hence not exactly suited to running, both long and short distances. “He told us that Arpinder had heavy legs and he cannot even win a medal at district level,” says Jagbir. The coach, thus, recommended him to pursue triple jump. Arpinder, his father, says was quite excited as “he had seen village youth jumping over canals in our locality”.
After learning the basics from Bal, he shifted his base first to Jalandhar and then to Ludhiana to train under coach SS Pannu. In 2014, he made headlines by setting the national record (17.17m) at the nationals in Lucknow. It was again his technique that stood out. “When Arpinder made the national record in Lucknow in 2014, the 17.17 jump came due to his technique and strong basics. His run was very good and he had strength in his limbs and body to propel him further. The bronze medal in Glasgow boosted his confidence and as a athlete, it also helped mentally,” remembers Pannu.
With soaring marks, his ambitions too leapt. Arpinder wanted to train with the legendary American coach Jeremy Fischer in USA, but the plan was shelved as the AFI was against his coach Pannu accompanying him. Later, he began training at the London Coaching Foundation under 1986 CWG champion John Herbert, a stint that eventually turned counter-productive.
While he learnt a lot from the coach, his jumping technique would head south. In the pit, his revised action would sent him higher in flight, but cut into the distance.”There were two different techniques. I used to have a smooth take-off action, but the coach asked me to raise my arms higher to get better distance. Somehow the technique change did not suit me, it confused me, and my performance dipped steadily,” he says. More setbacks ensued as he failed to make the cut for the Rio Olympics. That’s when Pannu decided to rework his technique all over again. They began from the basics. “Since, he was not touching the 16m mark, it also made him suffer mentally. He would not speak much with the fellow athletes,” says Pannu.
Those months when his jumping numbers went sliding were also when he worked the hardest he insists. “Yes, I was confused about the technique, but there’s other things I learnt,” he says of his journey before hitting the comeback curve. “I became independent there. Learnt to cook, calling my mother for recipes. I’d cycle 7-8 kms daily to training,” he’d say.
What strengthened his resolve to make a comeback was the frequent taunts. “I love getting my pictures clicked. It reached a point where people said that bas photo shoto kheench raha hai. Many people said I won’t be able to return,” he says.
Steadily, Pannu and Arpinder began reconstructing his basic technique. “At that time, his approach run was slow and he would bend his knee before the jump, which meant that he didn’t get any horizontal velocity. “Initially, I would make him run for one month, which meant that his body muscles adapted to the running techniques. Later, he would do drag racing with weights of 5-15 kg,” Pannu says.
The results gradually began to show. He qualified for the CWG, and though he narrowly fell shot of the medal, the jump of 16.46m reassured him. Soon after, at the nationals in Guwahati, he breached the 17m-barrier, leaping 17.09 to qualify for the Asian Games.
In between, he had stints with reputed jumps’ coach PB Jaikumar at the Lakshmibai National College of Physical Education in Thiruvananthapuram. Along with him was his close friend and long-jumper Ankit Sharma “We have known each other since our junior days and when we decided to train here in Kerala, we knew that we will be away from the national camp. With nobody speaking Hindi here, it worked in our favour as there were no other distractions. So we spent the time after training in our rooms watching youtube videos of training and technical data,” says Sharma. Arpinder himself says it was tough. “I was the lone Punjabi trainee in Kerala. While I managed food, it’s been tough, and mother often says ‘have we thrown you out of the house that you refuse to return.”
A meticulous plan
Jaikumar ensured that they trained to a meticulous plan. “Earlier this year, Arpinder was having problems with the last part of his approach. He lacked the movement and had problems with his hop, which was more like a long-jumper. So Jaikumar made him run more to change the running like a jumper keeping the arms open. The main thing was that he would feel self-motivated, which was lacking earlier. I am sure if the competition was more stiff in Asian games, he would have touched the 17.30 mark,” says Ankit. Arpinder himself wasn’t quite satisfied with the gold-fetching distance. “I’d done 17.09 at Guwahati. I thought my body was in good shape, and I could’ve made a national record,” he would say regretting not doing better than his 17.17 mark. The sapping humidity at the GBK meant that he would suffer from spasm in his left calf. But back in his village, his father Jagbir would have been a proud man, not regretting his son not pursuing his dream, but weaving one of his own.