Athletics: Indiana stint a path to vital NCAA exposure for Zubin Muncherji

National 400m record holder Zubin Muncherji at the Kallang Practice Track yesterday. He will leave for the United States in a fortnight, on a partial scholarship to the University of Indiana. Gaining acceptance into a US college that competes in the
National 400m record holder Zubin Muncherji at the Kallang Practice Track yesterday. He will leave for the United States in a fortnight, on a partial scholarship to the University of Indiana. Gaining acceptance into a US college that competes in the top flight of the NCAA has been on his radar for a while.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Partial scholarship will pit Muncherji against stronger opposition in the US, says his coach

With the road ahead clear of speed bumps for the first time in two years, Zubin Muncherji has set his sights on going faster than he ever has before - in the United States.

The national 400m record holder has been offered a partial athletic scholarship at the University of Indiana, which competes in the top division of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The scholarship will cover room and board for the 21-year-old, who leaves in about a fortnight to start his freshman year. He intends to pursue a degree in business.

Gaining acceptance into an American university that competes in the top flight of the NCAA is something that Muncherji has targeted for a while.

He began applying to universities last year, with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) also among schools that he was in contact with.

He told The Straits Times yesterday: "Indiana is a Division 1 school, so I know I'll get the push that I need to get to the next level, which is really important to me.

HIGHER LEVEL OF COMPETITION

His struggle here is that he doesn't have anyone to push him in training. The environment in Indiana will be good for him.

KAMARULZAMAN TAHIR, who has coached Muncherji for the past eight years.

"I've been to the US on training stints. You're competing against faster athletes and you're pushing yourself in every session."

The Indiana Hoosiers have a reputable track and field programme, with alumni like 2016 Olympic high jump champion Derek Drouin and David Neville, the 400m bronze medallist at the 2008 Olympics.

Muncherji made headlines in 2014 when he broke the 40-year-old national 400m mark as a junior. He clocked 47.29 seconds to erase Godfrey Jalleh's 1974 mark of 47.4sec.

Training went on the back burner almost immediately after that, when the Anglo-Chinese Junior College alumnus turned his attention to preparing for his A-level examinations. He subsequently enlisted for national service.

It has not been easy trying to train through all that, said Muncherji, who reaches his operationally ready date (ORD) today.

"It's been tough (but) I've enjoyed the process as a whole. I was given time off to train during NS - for which I'm extremely grateful - but it's not the same like it was (before NS)," he said.

He is hopeful that a more demanding and competitive training environment will help him maximise his potential.

Said his coach of eight years, Kamarulzaman Tahir: "Zubin is a very talented 400m runner, and is very disciplined about his training.

"But his struggle here is that he doesn't have anyone to push him in training. The environment in Indiana will be good for him."

Muncherji joins a handful of other national track and field athletes studying in and competing for American colleges.

National women's long jump record holder Eugenia Tan is at Georgia Southern University, while thrower Wong Kai Yuen attends UCLA. Ng Chin Hui, also a 400m runner, is at the University of Oregon. All of these schools compete in the top division.

Muncherji is confident a more demanding environment will push him to do better and go faster. He clocked a personal best of 34.1sec over 300m about a month ago, a time that is faster than the estimated 34.4sec he clocked when he broke the national record.

He said: "I haven't done that since I went into NS. It's still an estimate of where I am right now physically, but I'm shaping up well.

"I'm really hoping that all these (factors) translate into the 400m when I need to compete."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2017, with the headline 'Indiana stint a path to vital NCAA exposure'. Print Edition | Subscribe