Brandon Starc has been in a perennial quest to create an identity of his own. In Australia, he is known as ‘the brother of Mitchell Starc’. To the world, he is ‘that guy from Game of Thrones.’ In the end, it took a leap of 2.32m for Starc to step out of the shadows of his cricketer brother and Bran Stark, a character from the famous TV show named eerily similar to him.
Starc became the first Australian in 24 years to win a Commonwealth Games high jump gold at the Carrara Stadium on Wednesday. Led on by a partisan crowd, the 24-year-old set a personal best mark to win his first senior international medal. The last time Australia won a high jump gold medal was in 1994, when Tim Forsyth finished on top of the podium in Canada.
Starc first emerged on the Australian track and field scene when he won the bronze medal at the 2010 Youth Olympics. “He had this thing that among the two brothers, he was the first one to represent Australia in a global event,” Brandon and Mitchell’s mother Julie May says, adding there was no sibling rivalry between the two as such.
That, however, would prove to be the only consolation for Starc. His career stagnated after that initial high while his brothers’ graph soared. The comparisons between the two Starcs became starker as Mitchell went on to become one of the fiercest Australian bowlers of this generation since making his debut in 2011, while Brandon’s only real achievement was an appearance in the 2015 World Championship final, the first Australian since Forsyth in 1997. But it was the same Mitchell won Australia the World Cup.
Gradually, he came to be known as the ‘jumper who’s Mitchell’s brother.’ Starc believed the tag of an Olympian would lend him some credence. But at Rio, where he made another final appearance, he won more fans because his name resembled the ‘Game of Thrones’ character’s.
He hopes the Commonwealth Games gold with mark a turnaround. “A 100 percent, yeah,” he says when asked if the medal will finally help him step out of the shadows. “I feel really good to calling myself as a Commonwealth Games gold medalist. I love everything about Mitchell. What he’s done is incredible, but to put my name down there now is a good feeling, yeah.”
The irony, however, could not escape. On the biggest night of his career, Starc was still talking about Mitchell and Bran Stark.
Tejaswin finishes sixth
For a brief period in the final, Starc was being challenged by a teenaged Indian. Tejaswin Shankar, the 19-year-old high jumper from Delhi was among the medals after three rounds while Starc was languishing at fifth. But Shankar, competing in his first major senior event, was overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and the noise from the stands.
“I’m experiencing this for the first time. Nationals mein toh char log hote hai (there are four people watching nationals),” he says. “When you clear the bar, the crowd goes wild. I enjoyed that. When you don’t do it, the crowd groans… that’s a bad feeling.”
With the bar set at 2.18m, Shankar missed his first jump. But he quickly regained composure and it in his second attempt rather comfortably. He needed just one attempt to leap over the next two challenges, set at 2.21m and 2.24m, which took him to the second spot.
He looked on course for a podium finish but he could not clear the bar, which was set at 2.27m. He had leaped 2.28m while winning the gold in the Federation Cup National Championships last month but on the day of the final he was not in his element.
Shankar said he couldn’t find his rhythm as, for the first attempt, the bar was set at a height he isn’t used to.
“Generally I start with 2.10m and slowly gain in confidence. Here, I had to start with 2.18m. This is something I need to learn fast as this is how it will be in all finals,” Shankar after the event.
“While trying to clear 2.27m, I lost the rhythm. The first two attempts were really bad but then I tried to put everything together for the last attempt but it didn’t work out. It wasn’t my day.”