Record breaker

Record breaker
Zubin Muncherji, a 400m athlete. A training stint in the United States helped propel him to set a personal-best time in a race recently to qualify for the World Youth Championships in Ukraine in July 2013. Zubin, who was born in India but moved to Singapore with his family when he was a few months old, is also a student at Anglo-Chinese Junior College.

SINGAPORE - Two years ago, 16-year-old Zubin Percy Muncherji set a challenge for himself. Not any ordinary challenge - like eating the most burgers, proposing to the most beautiful girl in school or other such teenage indulgences. He set his sights on the 400m Singapore national athletics record, which had been around for 40 years.

The record was 47.4 seconds, set by Godfrey Jalleh at the National Stadium in 1974. It had been around so long that it had intimidated and beaten many men over the years.

Not Zubin. In June this year at the Asian Junior Championship in Taipei, the 18-year-old ran his best race. He set the time of 47.29 seconds in Round 1 of the 400m qualifiers. More importantly, he set a new benchmark in Singapore athletics. Godfrey's record was broken and Zubin felt as much relief as shock at what he had done.

More than two months after the record-breaking run he still speaks with frenetic energy about that race, as if he has just finished running it. As if he is still breathless from the effort. There's nervousness in his voice. A sign of disbelief maybe.

"I had been eyeing this record for so long. It's my biggest achievement to date. At that moment of course it was all a big shock. I knew I had run fast but fast enough to break the record was a big, big surprise," he tells tabla!.

That race, in which he finished second, made him a front-page hero, headlines screaming his name. It's the race that made all the hours of training under the gruelling sun, all the iron-pumping in the gym, not eating pizza, skipping parties... all of it worthwhile. Although he finished fifth in the finals at the championship, with a timing of 47.74 seconds, he had bagged the record and it's all that seemed to matter.

It also changed things for him. Now more is expected from this young man of 18.

A gold, perhaps, at next year's South-east Asian (SEA) Games which will be held in Singapore.

His coach Kamarulzaman Tahir, with whom Zubin has been training for five years, thinks so. "He will win the gold and I think break the national record once more by running under 47 seconds," Mr Kamarulzaman tells tabla!.

Zubin too thinks he can run faster. "A medal is definitely a possibility at the SEA Games. It'll be special to run in front of the home crowd and do well," he says, though without the promise of the yellow metal.

He speaks with much restraint; despite the bragging right he has won for himself. He even plays down the one clear advantage he enjoys. At 1.88m, he is probably the tallest athlete in Singapore. His bigger strides help him cover more distance, an advantage he can take with him to higher competitions.

"In Singapore I may be among the tallest athletes competing, but outside it's hardly an advantage, where every other athlete is about my height or taller," he says.

He can play down the expectations, the advantages, yet, he knows running is never going to be the same again. People will get greedy for better starts, more wins, fewer seconds. For to break Godfrey's record, Zubin had shaved off 1.40 seconds from his previous best of 48.69seconds.

Such progress is bound to fuel expectations.

But can this young boy cope?

Coach Kamarulzaman says he can.

"I think he has the potential to be the finest athlete Singapore has ever produced," he says. "I remember I sent a letter to the Singapore Athletic Association a couple of years ago telling them that this boy had the potential to break the national record. He has proven me right."

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