At the end of the high jump competition at the Federation Cup, it seemed inexplicable when Nikhil Chittrasu grimaced and said he “was not happy at all.” Despite suffering from flu, Chittrasu had just won the event. The high jump section of the athletics track at NIS Patiala had managed to draw a small crowd of onlookers who were cheering even as he cleared 2.21m – a personal best.
That mark matched the meet record set seven years back. It would have been enough to win a bronze medal at the last Asian Games. More importantly, it was two centimetres higher than the qualification mark set by the Athletics Federation of India to make the squad for the 2014 Asian Games.
Yet Chittrasu wasn’t happy. He felt he could have done more. The 2.21m jump had been easy for him. He had got there without a foul. Chittrasu then went directly for the national record (2.25m) with an attempt of 2.26m, but missed all three of his attempts.
“I really felt I could have got the national record here. Despite the fact that I was running a temperature, I felt the amount of training that I had been doing in the last 10 months was something that would have been enough,” said the 24-year-old from Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu.
“I believed I would get a special mark that everyone would be chasing for years,” he said. But in his excitement he kept making the same technical mistake – leaning forward too much before takeoff.
All in all, Chittrasu is glad he would have another chance to make a mark — at the Asian Games in Incheon.
Beyond Incheon though, he has his eyes set on a slightly unusual target. After 12 years training as a high jumper, Chittrasu wants to take a shot at the long jump event.
Chittrasu says he got the idea last year after the Asian Athletics Championships in Pune. “I felt I was in great form and great shape. But I suffered stress fracture on both my legs and had a really poor result (he finished 9th with a best attempt of 2:15m). On the night of the event I was crying for the first time. At that time Surekha (who incidentally won the pole vault event at the Federation Cup) said that perhaps I should try long jump instead.”
It would prove to be an inspired decision. After recovering from his injuries, Chittrasu, who at 6’4” has the natural build of a long jumper, tentatively took part in a local competition and found that he was clearing 7m with ease. At the Inter-Railways meet in December last year — only his second attempt at long jump in a competition – Chittrasu came second with a jump of 7.71m, only behind K Premkumar, who set a national record at the event.
However, soon after the competition, Chittrasu was back to high jump. “My coach wasn’t really keen on it. And because the two events are so different, I was having some muscle tightness after a competition,” says Chittrasu.
His coach at the SAI, Bangalore centre, Evgeny Nikitin, who has coached current world champion Bohdan Bondarenko, told Chittrasu he was a strong prospect at the Asian Games and not to risk injury. “So my coach made me promise to focus on high jump and once I win a medal, he would consider me taking part in another event,” says Chittrasu.
Sudha, Lalita make cut
Also beating the qualifying standards set for the Asian Games were reigning Asian Games champion and national record-holder Sudha Singh and marathon runner Lalita Babbar in the 3,000m steeplechase event. As opposed to the AFI’s qualifying standard of 10:05.60 seconds, both Lalita (9:52.34s) and Sudha (9:53.54s) finished well under time. The duo’s time was incidentally faster than the 9:55.67s Sudha had clocked en route the 2010 Asian Games gold. Coach Nikolai Snesarev, however, believed the athletes have the ability to clock an even faster time. “It wasn’t a great time but it was good considering the heat and humidity,” Snesarev said.