Guwahati: There are just a few sporting events that can look royal, archaic and modern, all at the same time. The sport of fencing may have begun as military training and evolved into a sport in the 14th or 15th century in both Germany and Italy, but it is a modern sport with the latest technologies used to determine winners. And oh, the costs are very modern too. According to professional fencers, the combined cost of equipment and uniform, including shoes, could be somewhere between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.5 lakh. And that is just the beginning.
The prohibitive costs make it a no-go for most Indian youth, and even more, if you are not from an affluent family. This is perhaps why the achievements of Chingakham Jetlee Singh from Kyamgei Mayai Leikai village in Imphal East district deserve so much praise.
Youngest of the three siblings, Jetlee’s parents: Ch Sharat Singh and Ayingbi Devi run a roadside dhaba in the village that serves roti, sabji and evening chai with fritters. Even though the parents knew the prohibitive costs, they were in no mood to throw cold water on their son’s aspirations. Jetlee was inspired by a senior named Eklavya to switch over to fencing from football. “I was initially into football as it’s popular in our region, but after a couple of years, started developing an interest in fencing after watching Eklavya winning medals in the sport,” he says.
As Jetlee acknowledges in this interview with EastMojo, the parents have always been supportive of his choice even though they had very little knowledge about the sport.
A bit of research aided by inputs from the coaches, helped the couple acquire the kit (uniform and equipment), albeit a first copy by investing a mere Rs 3,000. Little did they get an inkling that the kit would inspire young Jetlee to fetch his first couple of medals at the national level.
In December 2013, Jetlee joined the local academy under Haodam Manglemba Meitei, and within months, gave glimpses of a bright future when he returned with a silver medal at the sub-junior national championships, and later bettered the colour with a gold medal finish in the junior nationals, in 2015.
Jetlee’s meteoric rise in what he termed “Chinese copy” kits, was tracked by the scouts from the famed Army Institute of Sports (ASI) in Pune, and in 2016, he was selected to join the institute, which is also one of the SAI National Centre’s of Excellence. For the past six-seven years, Jetlee has been training in the institute and has recently been appointed as a Havaldar.
“It has been a brilliant journey at ASI, it feels like home now. I would call it a learning process. Along with world-class facilities, the institution has also been instrumental in shaping the careers of many youngsters like me. I recently joined as a Havaldar,” he said, while jokingly revealing that he is yet to get his first salary.
Jetlee is relieved that his native village was relatively safer in comparison to the rest of the state which witnessed massive violence over the past few weeks. Away from his near ones, the youngster acknowledged that he was initially worried after the internet was cut off in the state.
“It’s natural, one will be worried when such instances take place, and internet services are also cut. But thankfully there was no untoward situation back in the village. It is peaceful there,” he said.
Gearing up for his second appearance at the Khelo India University Games (KIUG), with his event running from May 31 to June 2, Jetlee, who was named as a Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) Development Athlete in 2022, spoke highly of the platform the Games provide to the emerging athletes.
“The gold medal win in Bengaluru in the last edition has given me enough confidence, and I’m confident about performing well in KIUG 2022. I am working hard for it,” he said.
“It is a great competition, where players get a good platform to showcase themselves before making it to the big stage. Bangalore had excellent arrangements, I am excited for my second Khelo India University Games,” he added.
Deep inside, the 22-year-old knows he will hardly have any time left for preparing for the trials of the Asian and World championships, slated to be held in the national capital on June 5.
“Yes, it’s tightly packed, after finishing the KIUG assignment, I will have to rush to Delhi for the trials. This is an important year for me, and I will be expected to be in the best shape for the trials,” he said.
Earlier this year, Jetlee participated in the Grand Prix held in Doha, and before that, he competed in the 2022 Commonwealth Championship, where he returned with the team gold in the championship and improved his ranking with a good performance at the Grand Prix.
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The sport received a much-needed facelift in the country ever since Bhavani Devi’s impressive show on India’s Olympic fencing debut in Tokyo, and Jetlee has similar aspirations. He knows the road to qualification isn’t an easy one, but hopes to make the big stage and return with a medal one day.
“I have targeted the 2028 Olympics for myself, and I am practising accordingly. I will give my all to win a medal for the country. It’s a dream, and I will work towards turning it into a reality,” he said before signing off.
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