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Running With Giants

Track and Field Overseas Training Camps To Spain, South Africa

Two groups of Singapore Sports School Track and Field Academy student-athletes depart for South Africa and Spain for training in January 2020. The eight post-secondary student-athletes – four sprinters and four jumpers – chalk up valuable experiences and insights into the sport during their respective overseas stints as they learn from world-class coaches and interact with elite-level athletes.

Sprinters Visit High Performance Centre at University of Pretoria (Johannesburg, South Africa)
By Mohammad Irfan Qabeel Md Daud (DSLM Year 3)

Four post-secondary sprinters from Singapore Sports School, under the watchful eye of Head Coach Pedro Edmundo Soto Acuna, departed for the long-awaited training stint to Johannesburg, South Africa, on 10 January 2020 and returning on 23 January. During our time there, Marcell Tan Yann Guang, Reuben Rainer Lee Siong En, Nur Syarin Zahari and I had the privilege of staying at the High Performance Centre (HPC) at the University of Pretoria (UP).

The South Africa stint allowed us to experience the regime that elite athletes go through, including adjusting to jet lag – after a 17-hour flight – while training and competing in a new environment. HPC provided a conducive training and physical environment for development. There were a number of world-class athletes and their coaches who were also training at the Centre while we were there, and we were fortunate to be able to train, mingle and interact with the athletes. In addition, being located at high altitude (about 1,400m above sea level), is beneficial for enhancing our stamina and simulates similar physical conditions to Nairobi, Kenya, where the 2020 IAAF World U20 Championships which we’re aiming for will be held at.

After a few days of light training to facilitate our adjustment to the different climate, altitude and time zone, training switched up to include speed work, speed endurance, aerobic intervals and weight training. We had the opportunity to train with the UP athletics team which Olympian Akani Simbine is a member of. Akani, who has a Personal Best of 9.89s in the 100m, finished 4th at the 2019 Doha World Championships and 5th at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Akani’s coach Mr Werner Prinsloo taught us certain drills to develop our basic movement and emphasised the muscles we were to focus on while performing each exercise.

In addition to Akani, we also met and interacted with other top athletes such as hurdlers Milan Trajkovic (Cyprus), a European Indoor Champion; Orlando Ortega (Spain), medallist at the World Championships; and Kurt Couto (Mozambique), a three-time Olympian. They shared openly and humbly about their experiences of competing on the elite level, including their hectic training and competition schedules. The exposure to world-class athletes and the kind of training they undergo was definitely an eye-opener. But, just like us, these athletes whom we met are human beings. They, too, feel the exhaustion and pain of a hard session; it is what we do when we’re tired that will take us to the next level – and that is to continue giving our all despite the fatigue, to train harder and greater focus on our goals.

Jumpers Visit Meliz Sport Club (Guadalajara, Spain)
By Andrew George Medina (IBDP Year 6)

Raeshon Loo Wei Ming, Arfan Azhar, Muhammad Hazim Ismail and I got an opportunity to go to Guadalajara, Spain, for a training camp from 23 January to 4 February 2020. We were hosted by Méliz Sport Club which our coach Ricardo Jose Diez Boza had worked at previously during this jumps-focused overseas stint.

Méliz Sport Club is co-founded by Mr Luis Felipe Méliz, a retired long jumper who has represented Spain in three Olympic Games. Coach Luis taught us several drills which are supposed to be an essential part of a jumper’s warm up. We also had a few sessions with Mr Iván Pedroso, also a former long jumper from Cuba. As an athlete, Coach Iván won nine world championship titles and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games gold medal. He now coaches top triple jumpers such as Ana Peleteiro, Nelson Évora and Yulimar Rojas who have won medals at the Olympics and world championships.

I experienced first-hand how somewhat minor tweaks to my technique can yield massive results. Coach Iván was an advocate on getting our basics right, correcting both our running and jumping mechanics and technique. For example, he noticed immediately that I was not fully utilising my arms during the jump. I felt a marked difference after working on improving my arm drive over the next few sessions. We also learnt how perfecting a small movement like the active gripping (the final action of the lower leg for explosiveness) before take-off and position of our foot-plant was crucial in the triple jump. Though not perfect, the small refinements to my technique definitely improved the feel of the entire jump.

We trained at an outdoor track and moved to an indoor one when the weather was cold (temperatures drop to single digits on some days). The outdoor track we trained at was just an ordinary public one, but made special by the people that trained there such as world-class jumpers Yulimar Rojas, Nelson Évora and Alexis Copello. Their passion for the sport was evident and inspired us to train harder and push ourselves further.

However, beyond these professional athletes who patronised the track, the strong sport culture was evident from the different groups of people that turned up at the stadium throughout the day. From afternoon onwards, the track and field would be teeming with people training and playing different sports – from race walking to sprinting to playing rugby. We noticed that the people in Spain truly enjoyed sports, be it recreationally or at the competitive level. It was incredibly refreshing to experience and soak in the atmosphere of a strong sport culture.