The men’s triple jump final at the Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships proved to be a high-class competition with just four centimetres separating the top-three – 16.83 metres, 16.80m, 16.79m – and India’s best Arpinder Singh putting in a heartening performance yet falling short of making the grade for the World Championships.
The 17-metre mark was not breached but winner Arpinder Singh could not recall a national competition in which the top-three registered such distances during his years at the senior level. If one accounts for the heat and humidity, the jumpers deserve more credit than the result sheet gives them. Thirty five degree centigrade on the temperature gauge, humidity close to 80 per cent and a 2:30 pm start under the sweltering sun, not ideal conditions to take a walk in Lucknow.
Perhaps organizers were trying to be too clever by giving the men triple jumpers a ‘real feel’ of the conditions in Doha during the World Championships where the average temperature in September-October will be around 38 degrees. There is one crucial difference because the Khalifa Stadium is a state of the art open-air air-conditioned venue, while the PAC Stadium in Mahanagar was hotter than a cauldron.
Asian Games gold-medal winner Arpinder, one of the star athletes, was attempting to meet the World Championships Qualifying Standard in the triple jump, which has been set at 16.95 metres.
Four years ago at this very stadium, in May, when the temperature was 48 degrees, Arpinder had set the then national record of 17.17 metres to qualify for the Commonwealth Games. He was expected to brave the heat and humidity and make the cut for the World Championships.
It started off well for the 26-year-old with a promising jump of 16.74 metres. Arpinder for a moment even miscalculated the distance and raised his arms believing he had crossed the 17-metre mark. But he had taken off well behind the board and lost out on crucial centimeters. There were five attempts to go and the anticipation around Arpinder was rising. His second jump was even better at 16.83 metres giving renewed hope to the fans and coaches who had moved to the far side of the stadium to watch the triple jump. He followed it up with 16.65 yet this was when fatigue started setting in.
To make matters worse, Arpinder was allowed just a two-minute gap between this fifth and sixth jump because of an official gaffe. When he walked back after his fifth attempt, the official told him he had just ‘10 seconds’ to begin the next jump. Arpinder’s pleas fell on deaf years and he ran in again and jumped.
Luckily for Arpinder, the timely intervention by the Athletics Federation of India’s high performance director Volker Herrmann ensured this particular jump was annulled and he got another opportunity. So he ended up jumping seven times instead of six and by the end of the competition he was drained and feeling dizzy.
Mohammed Salahuddin, a jumper who has made rapid progress this season improved his personal best to 16.79 metres to take bronze while Karthik U, the second-place finisher, was impressive with a best of 16.80 metres in his fourth attempt.
Arpinder, who is expected to make the cut for the World Championships, believed that a qualification berth was within his grasp on Wednesday but it was not to be.
“I don’t want to give excuses but if the competition was held a little later in the day, I could have done better. After three jumps I was down and exhausted. On top of that I was made to jump twice in less than two minutes because of a mistake on the part of an official. So I had two minutes between by fifth and sixth jump. Then I had to do the sixth jump again. So in total seven jumps. But no excuses,” Arpinder said.
His top jump of 16.83 metres was his season-best improving on the 16.63 in Sotteville, France, in July.
For someone who has been a rolling stone of sorts when it comes to coaches and training centres with stints in London and Chula Vista, not giving him the best results, Arpinder hopes that his four-month old association with Antony Yaich, athletics head coach at the Inspire Institute of Sport in Vijaynagar, works out to be a long partnership.
From bull to cheetah
Yaich gives an interesting comparison when talking about what changes he has been able to bring about in Arpinder’s technique. “Most of the time I am trying to tell him to jump like a Cheetah because most of the time he used to jump like a bull,” the Frenchman says.
By this Yaich means that Arpinder used to land on the board really hard but now is getting used to just caressing it with his foot in order to maintain his new-found speed into the jump. “Most of the coaches are confused that aggression means hitting the board hard. But what we are working on for the the last four months is trying to maintain the speed from the hop to the jump,” Yaich said. The target of qualifying for the World Championships was not achieved yet Yaich talks up Arpinder as someone capable of crossing 17 metres consistently and even going upto 17.30.
“Today he should have jumped 17 metres three or four times. After the first jump he realised he could qualify today but then he tried too hard. And when you try too hard you lose some of your technique,” the coach added.
With the September 6 deadline looming for qualification, Arpinder is in a race against time. He has another opportunity to excel next week at the sixth leg of the Indian Grand Prix in New Delhi, which is being held with 24 hours to go for the cut-off date for qualification. “It is wonderful that I have another opportunity. In a week, hopefully, I will meet my goal.”