Battling intense dehydration inside a sweltering Gelor Bung Karno Athletics Stadium in Jakarta yesterday, Arpinder Singh from the small Harsha Chhina village in Amritsar district (20 km away from the India-Pakistan border), Punjab, became the first Indian in 48 years to bag a triple jump gold in the Asian Games.
Jumping 16.77 metres to bag the gold medal, it was still short of his personal best of 17.17 metres at the 2014 National Inter-State Championships in Lucknow.
“I was aiming for a national record (17.30m) and should have done it. But I was too dehydrated in the last three jumps. I was completely gone by the time I had finished the final,” the 25-year-old gold medallist told The New Indian Express.
He had earlier bagged a bronze medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. However, this time it’s the Asian Games gold, and any jump that earns him the gold among the best in the continent is an impressive feat.
I am so proud to be able to represent my country 🇮🇳 and bring gold medal in triplejump after 48years in the #asiangames.Thanku all for the unconditional support to this point and beyond ✌i will try my level best to bring more medals for my country #teamindia #asiangames2018 pic.twitter.com/FxcnmExmXQ
— Arpinder Singh (@ArpinderSingh18) August 29, 2018
However, it’s the story behind Arpinder’s rise to Asia’s current best triple jumper which is even more impressive. Looking back, it’s incredible how yet again another Indian athlete overcame impossible odds to position himself as the best in Asia. Here’s his story.
His father, Jagbir Singh, a havildar in the Indian Army, had retired from service in 1990. Supporting an entire family on an Army man’s pension isn’t easy, and the family had faced serious financial problems. In fact, according to the Times of India, Aprinder’s family had to mortgage the family’s 1.5-acre plot of land so that he could fulfil his dream of representing Indian athletics on the international stage.
“Till the time Arpinder won the bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, our family had to undergo a lot of financial troubles. Ours was a hand-to-mouth situation. So much so that having three meals a day regularly was not possible,” says father Jagbir Singh to the national daily.
“To make sure Arpinder’s training went uninterrupted, we had to spend a lot of money. I had 1.5 acres of land, which I mortgaged to moneylenders. Over and above that, my debts ran up to Rs 5 lakh. The situation at our house was very tense and the future uncertain. It was only after Arpinder won the CWG medal in 2014 that we managed to free the land. He also made sure that I didn’t have any debt riding on my head anymore,” added Jagbir.
As an Army man, Jagbir was clear about raising Aprinder with the right sort of discipline. Making matters better for the triple jumper, his father was also a keen sportsperson playing a little hockey and kabaddi during his time. Seeing the talent in his son, Jagbir wanted Aprinder to become an athlete who could perform on the international stage.
Preparations started very early for Aprinder. In fact, he was only a little child when Jagbir would wake him up every day at 5 in the morning and make him go on 5 km runs every day. Despite all the initial crying and whining, Arpinder fell in sync with his father’s training regime.
“He was in fifth grade when he started competing in different track and field events. He tried his hand in 100m, 200m, 300m and long jump. That’s when his then coach DS Bal suggested that he should pursue the triple jump. The switch turned out to be the right decision as he went onto win several medals in the event,” says the proud father, speaking to Times of India.
Meanwhile, Aprinder promised his mother that he would return from Jakarta with the gold medal, which he duly fulfilled.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Arpinder even after winning the CWG bronze in 2014. To chase his dream of an Olympic gold medal, he left for London to train under Olympic gold medalist John Herbert. The 10-month stint there was nothing short of disastrous.
“I wouldn’t say that the coaching was bad but it didn’t work out. They tried to change my technique, something you cannot change as I was taught one set of instructions for years,” he tells The New Indian Express.
National jumps coach Bedros Bedrosian’s assessment of that coaching stint is even more damning. “I saw the training sessions. The coach was essentially a coach for the juniors. At times, I didn’t know whether Arpinder was coaching the coach or vice-versa. It was so bad,” he told the publication.
His Olympic dreams never surfaced, but Arpinder cut his losses and moved back to Thiruvananthapuram, where according to Bedrosian, “he had to forget the things he learned (in London)”. All those months spent in re-configuring his technique has finally borne fruit with the Asian Games Gold.
Yes, it’s important to celebrate the achievements of athletes who overcome difficult odds to make it. However, in the midst of all this celebration, we shouldn’t forget that promising athletes and their families mustn’t have to endure such hardship and sacrifice to fulfil their potential.
It doesn’t stop the cries for a system to be in place whereby athletes like Arpinder can succeed without his father having to mortgage his land. Having said that, let’s celebrate his success for the time being. He deserves all the glory that has come his way.
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)