New Delhi: Legendary long jumper Anju Bobby George feels that her protege Shaili Singh can “conquer” the world in four or five years just like Neeraj Chopra is doing currently in javelin throw, going by her performances at the age of 19.
Earlier this year, Shaili had logged 6.76m at the Indian Grand Prix, the all-time second-longest long jump by an Indian woman after Anju herself. Anju’s national record of 6.83m still stands since 2004.
On Sunday, Shaili won her first international medal at the senior level — a bronze — with a jump of 6.65m in her first global competition at the Seiko Grand Prix, a World Athletics Continental Tour gold-level meet, in Yokohama, Japan.
“For a 19-year-old, the distance she (Shaili) has jumped is incredible. At 19, she has jumped 6.76m. She is a rare talent and we have to groom her very carefully so that she becomes one of the world’s best when she matures,” Anju told PTI.
“She has to get used to this kinds of things, competing against some of the best in the world and winning medals. In four or five years, it will be Shaili and Neeraj conquering the world among women and men respectively.” Anju, the lone Indian woman to win a world championships medal with a bronze in the 2003 edition in Paris, and her husband Robert Bobby George had spotted Shaili in 2017 when she was just 13.
Shaili is currently training under Robert, who is a also a High Performance coach of the Sports Authority of India at the National Centre of Excellence in Bengaluru.
Anju said the bronze in Japan will be the first step in Shaili’s transition from a talented athlete to a medal winner at the global level consistently.
“This medal will do a world of good to her confidence. You need this kind of competitions and honours to make the transition. Age is with her side and she will achieve more in the coming years.
“I am hoping that Shaili can win at least a medal in the Asian Games and also qualify for the (2023) World Championships in Budapest. This is a big year.” In the 2018 Asian Games, the women’s long jump gold, silver and bronze winners had jumped 6.55m, 6.51m and 6.50m respectively. The World Championships qualifying standard is 6.85m.
If Shaili breaches 6.85m this year to qualify for the World Championships in Budapest (August 19-27), she will break Anju’s long-standing national record of 6.83m, made during the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Anju herself had participated in the Yokohama event in 2004, then known as Seiko Super Meet, where she won gold with a jump of 6.61m.
Shaili was raised by her mother Vinitha, who works as a tailor, with great difficulty at a village near Parichha Thermal Power Station in the Jhansi district in Uttar Pradesh.
“She is very dedicated and she rarely goes home. Her mother comes to Bangalore to meet her. Financially, she is better off now, she has got some sponsors and she is also under TOPS (development group),” said Anju.
After winning a silver in the World U-20 Athletics Championships in 2021 with a jump of 6.59m, Shaili suffered an injury and was out of action for a year.
“Due to the injury, she was out of the track for more than one year. Last year, she came back but we did not rush her because we have to be careful. She is so young and she has the talent to be the best in the world in a few years’ time.”