A takeaway for 16-year-old Tejaswin Shankar, apart from the bronze he won in the high jump at the Asian Youth Athletics Championships in Doha, was the complement Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim, the London Games bronze-medalist, paid him. “I have not seen a jumper from India who has as much potential as you. I waited and watched all your jumps,” Barshim is said to have hold Shankar at the medal ceremony.
Barshim’s assessment of the six-foot and four-inch Indian commensurate with his progression so far. In just over 18 months since his first competition — the Delhi state athletics meet — Shankar has improved his personal best (PB) by 42 centimetres and it now stands at 2.12metres — set in Doha on Monday.
At about the same age — in 2009 —the 23-year-old Qatari’s personal best was 2.14.
However, before getting into any sort of hyperbole, it must be remembered that Barshim developed into a world-class athlete; he jumped 2.31 the very next year and has a PB of 2.43 now, while Shankar is still in the early stages of his career.
At the Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, Lodhi Road, Shankar was taking the initial steps towards becoming a fast bowler when his physical education teacher Sunil Kumar adviced him to follow drills used by athletes in order to build strength. Kumar realised that the boy had potential to become a jumper.
Shankar too took a liking for high jump and went from strength to strength by setting records at the Delhi state meet, North Zone, Inter-Zonals and the National School Games. In his first few competitions, including a CBSE competition in Delhi, in which he won gold, Shankar used the scissors jump – a basic technique — before being initiated to the Fosbury Flop by his coach Deepak Pal.
“Even now I would say that my Fosbury Flop is just 65 percent. I need to work more to improve my technique and once I do that I can improve further,” Shankar, who is part of the DDA Athletics Promotion Scheme, said.
“Shankar has shown immense potential for his age and has improved drastically. He is one for the future,” Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, the 1962 Asian Games gold-medal winner in the decathlon, said.
The high jump final at Doha was fiercely contested, and Shankar had to improve on his personal best by five centimeters in order to bag the bronze.
“I was determined to do well as I was selected for the Asian Youth Championships because of my previous performances. At the Youth Nationals, the qualifying event for the Asian meet, I could manage just 2.02. I had sprained my right-ankle, my take-off foot, just before the Youth Nationals. But thankfully, I was included in the squad because I had set a personal best of 2.07 at the School Games in Ranchi. I am happy that I could win a medal for India in my first-ever international competition. Now, I want to break the national youth record, which stands at 2.17 metres in the name S Harshit. After that I want to start competing in the senior level,” Shankar said.
If Shankar was not at the national camp for the Asian Youth meet, he would have participated in the Federation Cup Senior National athletics championships — the qualifying trials for the Asian Athletics Championships. Incidentally, Harshit won the gold at the Federation Cup with a jump recorded at 2.13 metres, just a centimeter over Shankar’s mark in Doha.