Krishna Jayasankar (18), always tallest in her class, remembers throughout school years bitterly wishing she could shrink and become invisibly small. Or petite at the least. Being body shamed for “being hefty and generally a big girl” was a constantly accompanying curse. But those broad shoulders, an invaluable inheritance from her basketball international father Jayasankar Menon, fashioned into deftly uncoiling springs in Discus throw, are now seen as her greatest asset.
Now she’s preparing to leave to train at Jamaica’s ‘Throwers ‘R’ US,’ a throws club in Kingston, with the aim of competing at the World U-20 Athletics Championship in Nairobi, Kenya, from August 17 to 22. A couple of US Universities have seen potential for NCAA and touched base, too.
“I always had my dad’s physique – wide, strong shoulders and larger than normal foot size,” recalls the 2019 U-18 national bronze medallist. “It was difficult to accept my own body in school because I was made fun of and body shamed at a very early age.
Strappy heels and dainty ballerina shoes in tiny Indian sizes proved particularly vexing. It took a toll on her normally sunny cheerful disposition.
“It affected my mental health badly. I used to hate my body when people told my dad ‘your daughter is huge.’ But my elder sister first shielded me and then motivated me. She told me ‘you need to go face these people. More importantly, you need to become the face of your body.’ Without her support, I’d have wilted,” she says, two years after finding her niche in discus.
She was born to international athletes – father Jayasankar, 6’6” was an Asian All Star power forward and mother Prasanna, tall but leaner, played for Indian cagers and is a legend at Railways’ south zone champion teams as coach. But Krishna was keen on avoiding the hoops.
“I didn’t think my parents got their due playing basketball, so never gave it a serious look,” she recalls. “I tried several other sports – first tennis, then badminton. Being taller than others in class (5’3” before she hit the teens), and hefty of course, my PT teacher put me into shotput in Class 5. In 2018, my track and field coach thought I was more suited for discus, and I medalled nationally immediately after.”
While in school, missing Maths classes was an incentive for someone who loved sport, she would start loving the throws for throws sake.
“I loved watching the discus travel and tweaking its release and studying the mechanism of how it worked – the energy transmission. You don’t expect it to travel that far. Then you realise what your body is capable of!” she offers.
Decidedly uncomfortable about her body at the outset, Krishna, now 5’10”, would begin to see her own uniqueness amidst a bunch of mediocre-built athletes.
“It’s in my genes,” she says. “But it took a lot of talking from my sister to understand I need to accept my body. I am big, not aggressive. So nobody really understood how I could crumble inside hearing comments.”
Once she found her own world in discus throw, the snide voices would stop affecting her. “Discus has a start, release and final phase. That third final phase decides how far it’ll travel. Somewhere around the second phase, I could say I stopped getting bothered about ignorant wordings,” she asserts, now happy and excited to make her first international trip.
Jayasankar Menon, built broad but often asked to tone down on aggression playing in India, had been top-scorer for India at Kobe, Japan in 1991.
“When I played the Asian All Star in Seoul, we had a Cuban coach who encouraged me to play freely,” he says. “Basketball post play is a lot about shoulders. Only internationally I found I could play my physical style.”
While encouraging his younger daughter, he was keen she face no restrictions owing to lack of exposure to the best training.
She would leave home at 16, train for a season at the Andhra Sports Authority (SAAP) Throws academy at Guntur, with funding for a foreign coach from Anil Kumble.
“Lot of unlearning and relearning was needed. If I had access to the same coaching at 10/12, I’d have been far better technically,” she says.
Simply pivoting on the right big toe without the heel touching the ground, propelled her throws to 47m from 43 (the junior national record is 49).
The pandemic saw the foreign coach return at the start of the year. While she considered her next step, the Jamaican tie-in would work out, after a recommendation from the earlier coach. “I’m excited. But I’ll be leaving my comfort zone,”
Krishna says before flying out. “I’m nervous. But my sister told me I have to toughen up on my own now,” she says of Athira, a data science engineer in Bangalore, who’s embarking on her own career in modelling.
“Both my mother and sister started as sprinters and triple jumpers early on. It’s time the power thrower makes her mark,” she laughs.