Women's long jump prodigy Shaili Singh's meteoric rise in Indian athletics has been not just captivating but ignited hopes of further success from track and field after Neeraj Chopra's unprecedented gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
The jumper surely has been in capable hands in someone like Robert Bobby George, who honed the skills of his wife and India's only World Championship medallist Anju Bobby George (in 2003) and has been now training Shaili for the last four years since spotting her at a local competition in 2017.
Three years later, Shaili repaid the faith shown in her with a World U-20 Athletics Championships berth last year barely at the age of 16 and a year later she primed at the biggest competition of her life so far with a 6.59-metre jump. The big jump showed her pedigree for success as she primed at a major event to go past her U-20 national record of 6.48 -- set back in June this year.
The jump, however, didn't obliterate her previous national record in the age group as wind assistance of +2.2 metre/second was beyond the set limit of 2 m/s but was enough to fetch her the silver medal while missing out on the gold medal by 1cm.
To further understand how close she was to India's third gold in the competition behind Neeraj Chopra (2016) and Hima Das (2018), the previous four of the five competitions since 2010, the champion is crowned with jumps lower than that of the girl from Jhansi.
In fact, Shaili herself didn't see that jump from her Swedish rival Maja Askag coming at a 6.60m jump.
"I was certain of winning the gold after that 6.59 jump and wasn't expecting a jump bigger than that until Askag surpassed me," Shaili told Indiatvnews.com at the Delhi Airport upon her arrival from Nairobi on Tuesday evening.
However, with three attempts still to go, Shaili wasn't unperturbed by her Swedish competitor, whose season-best was an unregistered 6.80m (due to wind assistance of +2.2 m/s) and who also won the triple jump crown, and wanted to show her latest best wasn't a fluke jump.
"I can't tell you what was the distance I set for myself in Nairobi but my coach and I were confident that I can go past the 6.60m marks with three attempts left and were thinking of hitting 6.70m but after the two subsequent foul attempts, the momentum was lost. I blame myself for not doing that and next time I will ensure the colour of the medal will be gold," said Shaili.
It is, in fact, Shaili will have another bite of the apple as being barely 17 she is eligible to compete in World U-20 Championships in Cali (Colombia) next year but the teenager doesn't want to stop here as she aims for a bigger prize in the senior World Athletics Championships in Oregon next year.
Easier said than done, the qualification standard set for the event is a cm less than her mentor and role model Anju Bobby George's national record 6.83m but Shaili, who will turn 18 next year in January, believes it's achievable before the cut-off date of direct qualification: June 26, 2022.
"It's achievable, my coach has shown full faith in me and if he says we can do it then we can. I will be working hard towards it in the coming months," said Shaili.