One of India’s best young athletes, high jumper Tejaswin Shankar, was on Wednesday omitted from the contingent for the Asian Athletics Championships in Doha, though the 20-year-old had cleared qualification standards in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) competitions in the United States on more than one occasion since January.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) had insisted that the national record holder participate in the four-day Federation Cup, the final selection trial for the Asian championships in April.
Nearly a fortnight before the Fed Cup, Shankar had written to AFI asking for an exemption from travelling half way around the world because he wanted to participate in an NCAA indoor meet and appear for his mid-term examinations. Moreover, on January 18 and February 23, he had crossed the AFI-stipulated qualification guidelines in the men’s high jump — 2.25 metres.
AFI president Adille Sumariwala said that ‘everyone has a genuine excuse’ for staying away from trials but the selection committee was not buying it.
“He is not even in the TOPS scheme (Target Olympic Podium Scheme). So he is not a medal prospect or anywhere near that. I have been a national champion 11 times, it is of no value,” Sumariwalla said before adding “we are okay to miss out on a medal. I don’t consider he will get a medal.”
The AFI president, a former sprinter, said he was unhappy with Shankar’s performance graph. “He has been injured. He has performed, not performed. His graph has not been consistent. His graph has been up-down, up-down. And with 2.25 metres, he will not get a medal.”
Incidentally, Tejaswin had won the gold at the Big 12 Conference, an NCAA meet featuring 12 universities, with a jump of 2.28 metres in February after which he wrote the letter to the AFI.
A month earlier, he cleared 2.25 metres at another indoor university meet.
Tejaswin first expressed his disappointment about not being included in the Indian team on Twitter, before hitting out at AFI president via another tweet.
“Rather disappointing to see myself ‘not make the cut’ inspite of making the cut not once but twice out of the 4 indoor meets I competed in as of 2019. Nonetheless, I send all the luck and best wishes to those who made the cut,” he first tweeted.
Half an hour later, he said this on Twitter: “I understand that I couldn’t take part in the Fed Cup organised by @afiindia & if that’s why I wasn’t considered for selection then I respect the decision. But if this is what the president @Adille1 believes then I’m sorry to say he has no right to judge if I am good enough or not.”
Deputy chief coach Radhakrishnan Nair seemed to suggest that AFI was in the dark about the high jumper’s progress. This despite the letter Shankar had written to AFI before the Federation Cup.
“After the CWG, he didn’t want to participate in the Asian Games because he had a neck injury. He never told us if he recovered or not. He said that for a year he will have to change his technique so he doesn’t get this kind of injury again,” Nair said.
Though Shankar’s performance can be checked online, Nair said he went purely by the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) website.
“We checked the IAAF rankings. We could not find any performance in 2018 other than CWG and Federation Cup. I could not recommend (his name to the selection committee) as I have no information of injury or present status,” Nair added. “He should have participated in one of the five competitions, all five (including four legs of Indian Grand Prix), we had the high jump competition. But he did not come,” Nair added.
In the first week of March, Tejaswin had elaborated on why he would find it difficult to participate in the Federation Cup. “I will have to miss my final exams in April since it coincides with the Asian Athletics Championship. So I have to appear for this one. I can’t miss both, my professor wouldn’t allow it.”
The AFI president explained how not being able to appear for examinations can upset a young athlete while elaborating why Hima Das, the World Under-20 Champion, was given a six-week break to study.
On her return to competition in the third leg of the Indian GP at Sangrur, Hima clocked a poor 55.19 seconds — she holds the national record of 50.79. At the Federation Cup, Hima clocked 52.88 but missed the qualification guideline of 52.75. Hima is part of the 4×400 metre relay squad and could even run the 400m at the Asian Championships, Sumariwalla confirmed.
“Even AFI was not okay with it (Hima taking a break). But she was getting mentally disturbed (and wanted to) do her exams. If she was not going to focus on training… we took a decision to let her go and get it (exams) out of her mind and then completely focus on her athletics. There is a physical make-up and mental make-up and if the athlete is mentally not happy, an athlete is not going to put 100 per cent. We saw that she was getting very upset about not sitting for exams.”