Highly-talented long jumper Shaili Singh on Sunday missed out on scripting history by a mere 1 cm as the Indian settled for silver medal in the U-20 World Athletics Championships. The 17-year-old Indian's personal best effort of 6.59m was not enough for the gold medal as she was pipped at the post by Sweden's reigning European junior champion Maja Askag, who managed 6.60m for the top spot on the final day of the championships. A protege of legendary long jumper Anju Bobby George, Shaili was leading at the end of the third round but the 18-year-old Swede overtook her in the fourth round by a mere 1 cm, which proved to be decisive in the end. Mariia Horielova of Ukraine took the bronze with a best jump of 6.50m.
"I could have jumped farther than the 6.59m and won the gold. My mother had told me about winning gold and national anthem being sung in the stadium (but I could not do it)," an emotional Shaili said after the race. "I am just 17, I want a gold in next U20 World Championships (in Cali, Colombia). There is also Asian Games and Commonwealth Games next year and I want to do well in those events." Asked how she began her athletics career, Shaili said, "I was doing some running here when I was at school. Then I went to a hostel in Lucknow and my mother asked me if I am interested in athletics. I said yes and I joined hostel (in Lucknow) in September 2017 and then camp in 2018."
Her coach Robert Booby George said she had a bit of a technical issue while "landing", otherwise she would have won the gold. "She was weeping (after the event), she knew she could have won the gold. There was a bit of a technical issue while landing, otherwise she could have cleared 6.65m or even 6.70m," said George. "It is the first time she is not winning a gold in any competition. She (Shaili) hates silver and she is the big thing after Neeraj Chopra.
She will rule national circuit in the next few years and international circuit after that." Asked how long Shaili may take to get past his wife Anju Bobby George's 2003 World Championships bronze winning mark of 6.83m, Robert said, "I think she can do it in three years time, in 2024 or even before that. "Her speed is her forte. She is just 17 and I am waiting for her to turn 18. By that time, I will work to add more power to her. She will be a medal contender in Asian Games and Commonwealth Games next year. "She will be in U20 World Championships (in Cali, Colombia) next year and can even qualify for the senior World Championships (in Eugene, USA). She is in that range."
India ended their campaign with a best ever medal haul of 2 silver and 1 bronze, though the country had won one gold each in the earlier two editions -- by Olympic champion javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra (2016) and quartermiler Hima Das (2018). The mixed 4x400m relay quartet and 10,000m race walker Amit Khatri had earlier won a bronze and a silver respectively in this championships.
Shaili began brightly with a 6.34m and repeated the same distance next before her best effort in the third round. Her next two attempts were fouls and she could not get past the 6.60m in her final jump and the youngster seemed to be distraught at missing a gold and a chance to create history. Shaili, considered one of the brightest upcoming stars in Indian athletics, had topped the qualification round on Friday with a best jump of 6.40m.
The Jhansi-born athlete, who was raised by a single mother who worked as a tailor, currently trains at the academy of Anju Bobby George in Bengaluru. She is coached by Anju's husband Robert. "It was initially difficult for my mother to raise three of us (siblings) but she know I can do well and win medals," Shaili said. She had won the women's long jump event at the National (Senior) Inter-State Championships in June with an effort of 6.48m, her previous personal best.
She is the current U-18 world No. 2 and U-20 national record holder. In men's triple jump, Donald Makimairaj missed the bronze by 3 cm -- he produced his personal best of 15.82m but had to be content with a fourth-place finish. Gabriel Wallmark of Sweden won the gold with a best jump of 16.43m while Jaydon Hibbert (16.05m) of Jamaica and Simon Gore (15.85m) of France took the silver and bronze respectively. The Indian women's 4x400m relay team of Payal Vohra, Summy, Rajitha Kunja and Priya Mohan also finished fourth with a season best timing of 3:40.45.