Athletics: Tia Rozario rewrites Singapore triple jump mark despite Covid disruption

SINGAPORE – For much of the past year, Princeton University’s Tia Louise Rozario has been stuck in New Jersey, training under strict Covid-19 safety guidelines, such as maintaining social distancing with her teammates and keeping her mask on at all times – even during track and field training.

It was only on April 17 that official local athletics meets were approved, due to an improvement in the pandemic situation there.

With the lack of competition opportunities, the Singaporean was pleasantly surprised when she rewrote her national triple jump record at The College of New Jersey Last Chance Meet on Thursday (May 13), the third and final meet of her academic term.

The 20-year-old improved on her previous mark set at the 2019 Hong Kong Inter-City Athletics Championships by 30cm. Her 12.54m effort saw her finish first, ahead of the University of Pennsylvania’s Tamara Grahovac (12.17m) and Princeton teammate Kara Steele (12.12m).

Her record is pending ratification by Singapore Athletics (SA).

While the pandemic has proven disruptive, Rozario was able to see the bright side, telling The Straits Times: “With fewer competition opportunities, we were able to have uninterrupted training cycles which helped us to build our form really well for when the opportunity to compete finally came.

“I was hoping to break my personal best (PB), but I never expected it to be by such a margin. It felt very special getting to break the national record in the midst of the pandemic, especially from the other side of the world.

“Getting to train with my team and my triple jump training partner Kara Steele in particular, was the reason I was able to improve so steadily this year… It was also nice knowing I have made my family and friends back home proud.”

Rozario’s jump of 12.54m also qualified her for the Division 1 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) East Preliminary Round in Jacksonville, Florida at the end of May. The NCAA Div 1 is the highest level of intercollegiate athletics sanctioned by the NCAA, which has “always been a dream” for Rozario, and something that she “never expected to achieve as a sophomore”.

She has managed to make the best of both worlds, training under Princeton coach Reuben Jones when she is in the US, and under her primary school coach Chu Seow Beng when in Singapore.

Rozario also attributes her success to her strength and conditioning coach Jeromey Johnson, and head coach Michelle Eisenreich, who have both “played important roles in helping me excel”.

Chu called the arrangement “a good partnership”, noting that feedback flows both ways among the coaches and “when she is in the US, I advise her to take direction from her coaches there, and we just train as usual here when she comes back to Singapore”.

Rozario’s efforts on Thursday were within Chu’s targets for her, and he said: “I told her that with one year in the US, she has to show people as well as herself that she is improving. Since the standard for triple jump in Singapore is quite low, she has to break the national record.”

He has also set other lofty targets for Rozario, including breaking the long jump national record of 6.18m in two years (her personal best is 5.71m), making the 2022 Asian Games triple jump final and qualifying for the 2023 SEA Games.

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While Rozario has yet to meet this year’s SEA Games qualifying mark – the third-place triple jump and long jump distances in the 2019 edition were 13.55m and 6.16m respectively – Chu is confident that she will be able to qualify when the 2023 edition comes around.

He said: “There is still much room for improvement, but she is only 20. Looking at her progression, hopefully without any detour, we have planned for her to qualify by the 2023 SEA Games and to jump over 14 metres in about three to four years.

“For athletes, commitment, consistency and persistence are very important. Tia knows what she wants and she is willing to work hard towards it. I believe she has what it takes to make it.”

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