When Shaili Singh spotted Swede Maja Askag training at the long jump area during the recent under-20 Worlds in Nairobi, she got a little excited.
Askag, the junior European champion, had a wind-aided 6.80m just weeks earlier and was the favourite for gold (which she would go on to win) but Shaili did not let herself be intimidated.
“She started showing off a bit on the runway. I told her, ‘that’s your big opponent’,” revealed her coach Robert Bobby George in a chat with Sportstar.
“She replied, ‘I won’t be scared even if her dad comes. She doesn’t know… I’m Shaili Singh’.”
Bobby was stunned.
“Shaili is like a tiger. She told me that she would fight till the last drop of her blood. She can tolerate a great amount of pain— mental and physical. Anju was also like that,” said Bobby.
Now, it looks like there could be more such bravehearts in Jhansi (UP) where Shaili comes from.
“She says there are many children like her back home, who are talented like her. That’s something amazing. If you look around, there could be 10 more Shailis,” said Bobby.
And he is eager to have a look.
“What I need is support… and you give a free hand to experts to spot talent. Anju can go and shortlist athletes, we can conduct a small camp and scrutinise. We need everybody on board, the federation (AFI) and the SAI.
Long jumper Shaili Singh at a training session in Nairobi. – SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT
Bobby’s big dream
“My dream is to have six girls who are capable of crossing 6.50m from my academy (Bengaluru’s Anju Bobby Centre where he’s head coach and Anju the mentor). It’s possible, but I need resources, funds and other support too.”
Clearly, Shaili is as much of an asset for Bobby as he is for her.
“It’s the dream of any coach if he can execute the plan and produce the best results… I’m happy in that sense,” said Bobby, who expects Shaili to be India’s first seven-metre jumper in a few years.
“I would like to call this my second wind.”
Bobby is the only coach in the country who has produced two World championship medallists (the other being his wife Anju George — 2003 Worlds, long jump bronze).
And Shaili, despite being just 17, has been able to help her struggling mother and siblings back home.
“She is supporting her family with the scholarship money she gets, supporting her brother’s studies. And because of migraine, her mother’s tailoring work is gone, so Shaili is supporting her too,” said Bobby.