Two years after he won the gold medal in the triple jump event in Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018 and became the second Indian athlete to achieve the feat in the triple jump discipline, Punjab triple-jumper Arpinder Singh (25) was dropped from the Target Olympics Podium Scheme (TOPS) core group on Sunday.
While Sports Authority of India (SAI) inducted eight new athletes, including javelin thrower Shivpal Singh, KT Irfan and women sprinter Dutee Chand, in the core group, Singh was dropped from the list.
With Athletics Federation of India set to resume competitions and qualifying competitions in February next year for the Tokyo Olympics, the Punjab athlete, who had also become the first Indian to win a medal in the IAAF Continental Cup in 2018, believes that the dropping will hurt his chances and act as a mental setback.
The TOPS scheme includes an out-of-pocket allowance of Rs 50,000 per month apart from giving assistance to the core group players for customised special training, participation in international competitions, purchase of equipment and services of support staff.
“I got the call from Sports Authority of India officials informing me that my name has been dropped from the core group. I still cannot understand that on what basis have they dropped my name? There have been no competitions since the last eight months and with training resuming and competitions set to resume in the next two months, I needed this support at this crucial time. To try to get an Olympic berth even if there is an outside chance is a dream for every player. The situation has been the same for every athlete with no competitions in last eight months and supporting me for another 3-4 months would not have made a difference for the Sports Ministry. It has acted as a setback for me,” said Arpinder while talking with The Indian Express from his village Harsha Chinna near Amritsar.
While Singh had claimed the gold medal in Jakarta with a jump of 16.77 m, the Punjab athlete had crossed 17 m with a jump of 17.09 m during the Inter-State Championships at Guwahati two months prior to the Asian Games. Singh’s historic bronze medal effort in the IAAF Continental Cup at Ostrava, Czech Republic one month after the Asian Games, had seen him making a jump of 16.59 m in the qualifying series before his jump of 16.33m in the semi-finals.
In 2019, the Punjab athlete had his best jump of the season in the form of a 16.83 m jump at inter-state championship at Lucknow in August apart from two jumps in excess of 16.50 m during competitions in France. This year, Singh failed to cross 16 m during the training competitions in South Africa before returning home and spending three months under coach P B Jayakumar in Kerala before the lockdown happened. Singh was preparing for Federation Cup scheduled to take place at Patiala in March before it was cancelled. Singh believes that training under different coaches has made him understand different things.
“Last year, I was training under coach Anthony Yaich at IIS, Bellary and the coach’s focus was on starting the run-up with a sprint and it did not suit me as I had been training under a different plan since last 8-10 years. While he is a very good coach and the sprint style is very efficient for athletes, I decided to train under Jayakumar sir after competitions in South Africa. Jayakumar sir has spent time making me do the 18 strides in the 41 m run-up with first six strides in a more relaxing way with focus on rhythm through-out the run-up. He has also worked on my arm positions as my arms earlier tend to drift away from body. I was feeling confident to achieve the Olympic qualification mark of 17.14 m in March or coming months before the lockdown happened,” shared Singh.
With AFI set to resume competitions in February next year, he is planning to shift base to Kerala this month.
Singh, who had gone to train under coach Jeremy Fischer in Chula Vista in USA in December 2018, now hopes that training in Kerala for the next two months can help him achieve the Olympic qualification mark of 17.14 m. In the last eight months, Singh has also spent time on cardio-vascular training during the lockdown.
“In 2018, the approval for training in Chulla Vista had come for two months and when I returned to compete in India in 2019, the approval for the second stint came after a delay of more than three months. I had a talk with coach Jeremy Fischer, who told me that it was off-season at that time in USA and it would have been a waste of time at that time and I should have come earlier. There should be no delays like this. I thank the sports ministry for all the support but sometimes decisions like this can hurt an athlete. I am now planning to rent a room in Thiruvanathapuram starting this month and would aim to train without any mental pressure in the coming months in an effort to realise the dream of competing in Olympics,” concluded Singh.