IAAF World Indoor Championships: Siddhanth Thingalaya gears up to create history
Siddhanth Thingalaya was almost on the verge of not making it to the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham. However, unlike a few other athletes who might have had to face a similar situation, Thingalaya’s issue wasn’t the severe cold that’s crippled most parts of the United Kingdom. It’s just that he got his visa on the very day of his travel, the uncertainty even ruling out chances of his coach travelling with him. However, had he not received his visa in time, India would have gone unrepresented at the Championships.
“The federation had to speak with the IAAF in the last minute. I mean, had it gone later by a day, I don’t think I would’ve got the visa. I reached here on March 1. An athlete needs to reach before anyone since he needs to get acclimatised to the conditions, get used to the track and mentally prepare with what’s going around you, the track commotion, etc. But I can’t blame anyone,” he said, shortly after going through his warm-up routines, here at the Arena Birmingham on Friday.
The 27-year-old will take part in the 60m hurdles at the Championships and will want to eclipse his national record of 7.7s in order to bag a medal. However, given the kind of schedule he has been following ever since touching down, getting his composure back would be on the top of his priority list. “I was hungry as I didn’t have any meal pass since I came in so late and thus I couldn’t get inside the dining hall. I didn’t want to go out as well since it was snowing. So I was eagerly waiting to go out and have breakfast. I was hoping someone could manage a little bit for me,” he added.
By his own admission, this is the first time that Thingalaya has witnessed snowfall. “This is the first time I’m seeing snow. I might go to Dubai or somewhere it’s warm if I need to train, which is why I like California,” he said, while quipping about the drastically different conditions back in Mumbai where his family stays. “I saw the climate, I knew it was going to snow, but again it would have been better had I come in here a little earlier. As soon as this race gets over, I have to head to Patiala and take part in the nationals, since it’s compulsory for every athlete to compete.”
But how’s the feeling coming down here for the first time? He hardly stays in Mumbai, trains in California and like every other Indian is a foodie. If the first two could still be dealt with, the third part is the most challenging part for Thingalaya. Admitting that he needs to shed at least 5kg for the outdoor season, the lone Indian athlete is yet to try out the various Indian restaurants in Birmingham, which are in fact, quite close to the hotel he’s put up at.
“I have to lose around like 5kg for the outdoor season. I genuinely want to eat Indian food, but I can’t. I have a lot of organic stuff,” he added. “I love vada pav (a popular Indian snack). I’ll eat one once my season ends I guess. But my favourite is daal (split grain) and rice and Mangalorean fish fry. Definitely I’m going to have them once my season ends.” Being a Mumbaikar, one vada pav per season is quite some resistance!
Like his love for vada pav, Thingalaya’s journey, too, started back in Mumbai albeit as a football player until his coach urged him to increase his speed.
“I started as a football player. I used to be a midfielder for which you require a lot of speed and you have to work for it. So my coach back then advised me to join a summer camp at the Andheri Sports Complex,” he said. “That’s where I started to work on my speed. But I stuck to that (sprinting) mostly because of two reasons — I started to win all the inter-school competitions, which made you pretty famous back in school because the announcements are made and secondly, soccer is a team game and this was more individualistic in nature where I’m responsible for every single aspect.”
While that did bring him close to his current discipline, it was still quite a bit far from it. His inspiration to become a hurdler? An unknown Parsi veteran. “I once saw someone hurdling at the Priyadarshini Park. He was a veteran Parsi guy and it looked so attractive, I wanted to imitate him and check if I could do it,” Thingalaya added. “I had zero technique when I went to the state-level. I would do everything starting from jumping to sprinting and so on... I used to wear football shorts and slippers to these meets. I didn’t care about anything. I didn’t win the first time I participated at the state-level. But then it was also the first time I was exposed to failure”
There wasn’t much expertise to back him up as well. With his former trainer being a cricket coach, he didn’t know much about hurdle techniques. There were spells where he admits he learnt about them by reading up from books. An impressive showing at the 2010 Commonwealth Games did attract a few sponsors but by 2015 he was all on his own once again. With no coach for Saturday’s event as well, Thingalaya will have to challenge for the medal as an individual unit once again.
The motivation? “The main goal is to have a better timing. I have the basic speed. The only thing is that I need to run like I’m running for my life.”
NOTE | The reporter is in Birmingham as part of the Young Reporter’s programme organised by AIPS in collaboration with the IAAF