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Antony Yaich preparing India’s next crop of track-and-field contenders

Despite the recent bounty, Frenchman Yaich, head of track-and-field at JSW’s Inspire Institute of Sport (IIS), isn’t satisfied as he has set his sights on bigger and long-term targets.

Written by Andrew Amsan | New Delhi |
Updated: February 28, 2021 10:57:17 pm
Antony with his wards, including Jeswin Aldrin (fourth from left)

This month alone, track-and-field coach Antony Yaich has seen five of his wards break junior national marks. The latest entrant into the record books has been 19-year-old long jumper Jeswin Aldrin who leapt 7.97m to erase Kumaravel Premkumar’s U-20 mark of 7.94m at the South Zone Nationals in Kozhikode on Friday.

But despite the recent bounty, Frenchman Yaich, head of track-and-field at JSW’s Inspire Institute of Sport (IIS), isn’t satisfied as he has set his sights on bigger and long-term targets.

The hard taskmaster was, in fact, infuriated with Aldrin’s record-breaking attempt because he felt technical flaws “cost him a jump in excess of 8 metres”.

“He left his left leg dangling and that touched the sand behind while landing. An 8.15m jump is different from a 7.97m jump. It was a stupid and lazy mistake,” said Yaich, who has been training Aldrin for the last two years.

The Trichy-born athlete was roped in by Yaich, despite not having a great record as a jumper, primarily for his elasticity. “It is one of the most essential qualities to become a top-level athlete. A lot of people are mistaken that strength alone is enough,” explained the Frenchman, who has a PhD in Statistics and Econometrics from the University of Cergy-Pontoise in his native country.

At the junior nationals held in Guwahati earlier this month, his wards bagged nine medals, including seven gold. Four national marks were also erased in the process: Unnathi Aiyappa (U -16, 80m hurdles and 300m hurdles), Pavana Nagraj (U-16, High Jump) and Yashwanth Kumar (U-20, 110m Hurdles) rewrote the national records.

“Well, it is only the beginning and I am not satisfied. There is no secret but hard work. I am a perfectionist and won’t be happy until the right technique is attainted,” said Yaich.

Reworking technique

When Yaich first saw Aldrin jump, he wasn’t really pleased with his hang-technique and wanted him to adopt a more efficient method – hitch-hike technique – where the jumper completes a cyclic kick motion while airborne. The latter is a more widely used technique employed by most elite jumpers across the globe. Current senior national record-holder Sreeshankar (8.20m) credits his switch from the hang to hitch-hike method for the added zing to his jumps.

“It is the fifth competition that he has tried this new technique and that is why there are so many errors. He will probably need 10 more jumps before he gets it right. My target for Aldrin is Paris 2024 and if he does qualify for Tokyo that will be a bonus,” the coach said.

Yaich is not only a strict coach but also very protective of his young wards. He has a strict no-mobile-phone-on- the-ground policy and doesn’t encourage interaction with the media. “Aldrin is 19 but still a baby. I know what happens when some kids see their pictures and nice pieces about them in the newspapers. They think they have arrived and become complacent. I am just protecting my kids,” he said.

Yaich believes breaking a junior record is insignificant if the youngsters don’t transition into world-class senior athletes. Yaich, who has mentored several Olympians, has seen many promising youngsters fade away.

“One of my former athletes (Heather Arneton) was a junior world record-holder. She held the U-15 long jump world record (6.57m). But now she is not performing well. There are many who have broken such junior marks and have perished. A junior national mark is not a huge thing,” said Yaich.

So quite naturally, there were no celebrations on Aldrin’s little feat. The Frenchman says he will be pleased only after seeing his wards take the podium on the biggest stage on the globe, but knows it’s an uphill task. He also feels the Indians need to avoid getting overwhelmed by foreigners at events. “I think the Indians are a little too nice. The moment they see an athlete with an international jersey, they assume that the athlete would be better. But Indians are no less. Their discipline and dedication are second to none,” he said.

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