In the four years since his first major medal – a bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games – triple jumper Arpinder Singh saw some of the most disheartening lows of his sporting career: struggling while training abroad, failing to qualify for the Olympics and not winning a single multi-sport medal.
But in the three weeks since his second major medal – a gold at the 2018 Asian Games – Arpinder is experiencing the highs, not least being a second prestigious international medal in as many months. Twenty days after his gold-medal winning feat in Jakarta and a flurry of felicitation functions, he went to Ostrava in Czech Republic, where he became the first Indian athlete to win a medal at the prestigious IAAF Continental Cup.
His next event in the National Open Athletics Championship at the end of the month, to cap off what has been a busy, fruitful month, before finally going home after six months.
But in the interim, he is in Mumbai to launch a men’s grooming range along with a Bollywood actor, proof of Arpinder Singh’s rising stock. His Instagram page, which he carefully maintains with photo shoots by friends and motivational thoughts, is another. The Asiad gold medallist, who ended India’s 48-year long wait for a triple jump gold, is now a name that people remember.
This U-turn in his career and in the opinion of naysayers has been an important development for the 25-year-old triple jumper from Harsha Chhina in Amritsar, Punjab. It shows just how long he has come.
“People who used to ignore me are giving me importance now, some friends and others in my village used to tell my family abhi kuch nahi karega yeh [he won’t be able to achieve much.]
It used to hurt me, but it motivates me now. How many people from the village have done anything in sport? And the one person who is trying, you’ll are putting him down instead of encouraging. There are many more people who will say negative things, but very few who will be positive,” Arpinder told reporters at the launch event in Mumbai.
This would explain why he wants to avoid all the pomp and show that will accompany his arrival in the village, when he eventually does return. But it will definitely be well-earned after the four years in the wilderness, which has all changed with two big medals in a span of 20 days.
Foundation in failure
In a strange way, failure to launch instantly has actually been a big factor behind Arpinder’s success. He took up the not-very popular triple jump only after failing to do we all as a sprinter first, and then a quarter-miler and long jumper.
“I started off in 100 metres but I failed. I was around 10-12 years old then and I tried 200 metres, 400 metres and then long jump and failed in all. My father was very disappointed, he said I am giving you all the help but what was I doing?
A Sports Authority of India coach in Amritsar told me to try triple jump. At that time, I did not know what triple jump was. He said, “hop karte hain, step karte hain, jump karte hain... I learned it in a month and I continued and here I am,” he recounted.
But the challenges were only beginning. “I had a major problem in 2006 in my back. It was so bad, I was on bed rest for three months. Whenever I moved, I was in pain. Many people started saying that my career was over but my father always supported me and said that I can do it.
In 2007, I won first medal, at the school nationals and bouncing back from all that was an important point for my career,” he added.
From London to Kerala
After his CWG medal, he finished fifth at the 2014 Asian Games and was part of the Target Olympic Podium Scheme, through which he went to London to train under John Herbert. The year spent abroad was tough, from the language barrier to living alone. But the biggest hurdle was the change in technique, where he was asked to run vertically and change the alignment of his arms accordingly, which he took a while to adjust to and he could not qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“There was total change in the technique. The coach was very good but at that time, I was not able to adjust… I feel I am getting the benefit of training now,” he said.
Arpinder then came to Kerala and worked with Jaikumar, ironing out his technique and arm movement. And the results were there for all to see.
At the Asian Games, he was assured of a gold even before he attempted his last jump, which he was unable to finish because of cramps. Before the D-day, he spent many sleepless nights thinking about the expectations from him.
“I spoke to him daily and he told me to not overthink but our brain has its own ways. My first jump was a foul and then I changed my move and a little behind the foul line, which worked. I was cramping quote bad, but could not drink water. My partner was helping me relax my muscles but by the time the last jump came on, I couldn’t finish it,” he explained. “If there was no humidity in Jakarta, I could have created a new national record.”
His personal best currently is 17.17 metres, but his target is to reach 17.40m, as he sets his sights on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But before that, he has big plans for the Asian and World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
“The competition will be tougher than the Asian Games but if we give our best, I’m sure there will be a medal. 17.17 is my best and even this year I timed 17:09 so I am sure that I will get a medal in the World Championships,” he said.