Faster, Higher, Friendlier
Ulrik Karlsson couldn’t hide his excitement while emerging from the jumping pit. He flashed the victory sign and wore a broad smile as he hugged his coach and received compliments from friends who encircled him after the memorable feat. Though he relished every bit of the new-found hero status, the 15-year-old turned his head and looked at the height he’d scaled in sheer disbelief!
The athlete from the American International School Chennai (AISC) was the cynosure at the South Asian Inter-School Association (SAISA) athletic championship held at The American International School Muscat (TAISM) last week (April 23 to 25), clinching the high jump gold medal in the senior boys’ category with a superlative show.
Odds were stacked heavily against Karlsson in a competitive field. Obviously, no one expected the tall lad, whose personal best was 1.64 metres till then, to be in the podium leave alone a top five finish. But the youngster peaked when it mattered most, and in the process, turned the tables on the experienced campaigners.
He mixed caution with aggression and soared above the bar with consummate ease from the beginning. Half-an-hour into the competition, the 15-member field was reduced to just three when the officials raised the bar to 1.60 metres. Vaidya (of Lincoln School Kathmandu) couldn’t go past 1.61 metres, while Parkin’s (of Overseas School Colombo) challenge ended at 1.64 metres. But Karlsson went from strength to strength. He scaled 1.67 metres to pocket the gold, but the crowd expectation soared with the rising temperature, as he conquered 1.70 metres with a peach of an effort. His next three attempts to scale 1.73 metres, however, didn’t succeed, but his reassuring performance made everybody believe that Karlsson was the star to watch out for, in future.
“I could not believe that I scaled 1.70 metres,” exclaimed Karlsson after his triumph. “I am happy to emerge champion in my debut high jump competition. I couldn’t go past my personal best of 1.62 metres even during training sessions. The strong field brought the best out of me. I am confident of improving my show with more practice.”
A share of his success should go to his coach Pepper McFarland, who believes that Karlsson is a natural jumper. “He listens to my instructions carefully and I never had any doubts about his abilities. I am happy that he entered the school record book, erasing the old record (1.63 metres). I see a bright future in him,” she said.
TAISM too found a new hero in Esho D, who won four gold medals to help the hosts earn a respectable position in the three-day competition. She began the quest for glory on the opening day winning the 100metre sprint in style clocking 13.99 seconds. She continued the momentum when she won the 200metre race in 29.72 seconds. Esho proved her skills in the throw events too, hurling the discus to 20.68metres before guiding her team to gold in the 4X100 metre relay.
And when the curtain came down on the championship, the American International School, Dhaka (Bangladesh) emerged overall champions, logging 514.50 points. Karachi American School (Pakistan) finished runners-up with 418 points while The Overseas School of Colombo (Sri Lanka) took the third place with 401.50 points.
In fact, SAISA events are not just about competition. It gives a great opportunity for the students to interact with their counterparts from other countries and foster friendships. Collin Price, Head Coach (Track) TAISM, sums up the overall mood at the SAISA events. “The beauty of the competition is that it gets people together and children make friends from different parts of the world.” Leroy Nunes, Coach, American School Bombay, who is visiting Muscat for the third time, adds, “The athletes and officials stay with the local hosts, which fosters friendship. I stayed with the same family for the last three years, and they have obviously become part of my life. I always interact with them,” he said.
Joshua Lee, Captain, TAISM, believes that the SAISA events help the students make a lot of friends. “The competition is only on the field. Off the field, we are very good friends. For instance, I fought with Antony Weiss from the Overseas School of Colombo in the 1500 metre race. He eventually won the gold medal and I had to contend with the third place finish. But I am proud of his effort as he is my good friend, and he stayed in my house during the meet.”
Parents like Koen Van Eldik and Kathelijne Van Eldik believe that SAISA tournaments are community events, and that is why they came all the way from Mumbai to celebrate the event.
The summer heat made the Netherlands couple uneasy when they landed in Muscat, but they soon came to terms with the situation and found time to encourage their daughters (Tess and Fe) when they took to the field.
Koen said sports competitions help students improve their skills and provide an avenue to learn plenty of new things. “Students learn a lot of things from the SAISA events. They learn about responsibility and sportsmanship. Besides, the event helps them learn about the local culture,” he opined.
Apart from the athletes, TAISM also won appreciation for organising a fantastic event during the soaring temperature. Luther Rauk, Athletic Director, TAISM, said the school officials have worked hard to make the athletic meet a memorable one.
“This is the first SAISA athletic meet organised by TAISM. We began our preparations as early as in February. We sought help from the Oman Athletics Association to prepare the track and field. Besides, we co-ordinated with the administrative staff, teachers and families to make the meet a community event,” he said.