Spikes19 Nov 2018

Prove Them Wrong


Arpinder Singh celebrates at the 2018 Asian Games (© AFP / Getty Images)

by Arpinder Singh

At times, it’s best not to listen.

Or listen, if you must, but don’t believe what you hear.

As a kid, growing up in my village of Harsha Chhina in Punjab, India, no one practised athletics. The idea of that tiny place producing a good triple jumper – never mind someone who can jump over 17 metres – was crazy.

But my Dad, Jagbir, thought it was just the thing for me. I was 12 at the time, not doing well at school, and he believed it would make sense to give me a different outlet to the classroom.  

He had been a soldier in the Indian army, a former hockey and kabaddi player, so hard work and routine were always important – things he made sure I learned at an early age. As a young boy, he would sometimes wake me at 3am to run for 5km and I hated it, but looking back, it probably prepared me for what would follow.

To be an athlete – it was my dream since the age of 10. But those first few years, if I listened to what people were saying, I would never have even tried.

There were no athletes in my family before me. Why should I be different?

My village only has a few thousand people, and they would talk, telling my Dad: ‘your son won’t do well in life.’ They would discourage me, and maybe at the time it even made sense, but I always tried not to listen.

I started with the 100m, 200m, 400m and long jump, but didn’t have success in any of those.

Arpinder Singh at the 2018 Asian Games

When I was 14, my Dad took me to coach DS Bal in Amritsar. He asked me to try the triple jump. I had good height, he said, which would transfer well to the event. The first month was hard, but after it started to make sense.

But then I got injured – a bad back injury – and I was told to rest in bed for three months. At that age, three months can feel like forever.

I could hear what people were saying, that my career might be over, but my Dad always had my back.

As simple as athletics is, you need support to reach the top, whether it’s access to the right facilities or coaches. After learning the basics of my event from coach Bal, I moved to Ludhiana to train under coach SS Pannu.

All that cost money, but my family was willing to invest in my talent. At the time they were living hand-to-mouth. My Dad had to mortgage the one and a half acres of land we possessed to cover the cost of me chasing my dream.

In 2011 it started to pay off, when I jumped an Indian junior record of 16.63m. But my big break came in 2014, when I jumped a national senior record of 17.17m and also won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

For three days after that record jump, I walked around not knowing whether it had really happened. It felt like a dream.

Arpinder Singh celebrates his Commonwealth medal with his mother

That jump changed everything. I was able to pay off my father’s investment, and suddenly people knew who I was – I had access to sponsorships, facilities.

But to win a medal at the 2016 Olympics, I knew I had to do more. As a result, I moved to London to train with a new coach, spending 10 months there on the build-up to Rio.

I learnt a lot, but when it came to my technique I also changed a lot – too much.

At the time it didn’t make sense: I was working harder than ever, even cycling 15km to and from practice every day, but I was getting worse.

That year, I wasn’t even able to jump over 16 metres, and never made it to Rio.

Again, whether it was things I heard in person or read on social media, people used to talk me down. I took it as a challenge, using it as fuel in the years that followed, working even harder to bring my performance back to where it was.

I moved back to India, training twice a day most days: two hours in the morning, two hours in the evening. It worked, and earlier this year I jumped over 17 metres again.

In April I went to the Commonwealth Games carrying a back injury and missed out on a medal, but other than that I had a healthy year.

In August I won India its first triple jump gold medal at the Asian Games in almost half a century. It was funny – after that win the reaction in my home village was the opposite to what it was when I was a teenager. Now people were saying such nice things to my family about my athletics, my achievement. They were proud.

Arpinder Singh at the 2018 Asian Games

Growing up, I didn’t have anyone in athletics I looked to as an idol, but for the next generation in India that is changing. Athletics is far from the biggest sport here, but people are taking more interest, especially after we did so well at the Asian Games.

People want to take up the triple jump or the javelin now, and more people are paying attention to our achievements.

A couple of weeks after the Asian Games, I competed against the world’s best, Christian Taylor, at the Continental Cup in Ostrava, where I finished third. I had met Christian at competitions before, stayed in touch with him through Instagram, and he’s only ever been super-friendly to me, even though I hope to be one of his rivals over the coming years.

That’s my dream, and I’m making some changes to try to turn it a reality.

In the coming weeks I’ll be moving across the world again, this time to America, where for the next two years I’ll be training under Jeremy Fischer, the coach of Will Claye.

My goal is simple: to jump 17.80m.

I know what people might say – that it’s a huge improvement from my current best and that I should be more realistic, but that’s okay. 

Just like when I was a kid, I believe it’s possible, I believe it will happen – that’s what matters.

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