When high jumper Tejaswin Shankar decided to pack his bags for India, his decision raised a lot of eyebrows among his Kansas State University teammates and coach Cliff Rovelto. The 22-year-old had recently won silver at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Athletics Championships – the competitive inter-college division in the United States. But his mind had already been made.
He wanted to go home and meet his family, which had recovered from a Covid-19 infection last October. And he wanted one last shot at Olympic qualification at the ongoing Inter-State meet in Patiala.
“It doesn’t matter if I qualify or not, I wanted to meet my family at any cost,” he told The Indian Express after a warm-up session at the Punjab University grounds. He will compete in the high jump finals on Saturday.
“What this pandemic has taught me is that the most important thing in your life is your family and loved ones. It has been almost three years since I have met my family and the joy I got from seeing them is bigger than any medal I can get.”
The youngster has been a consistent performer in the American collegiate circuit. Yet those events were low-category events as per World Athletics. He sits at a lowly 52nd in the world rankings and his only hope to make the cut for Tokyo is a leap of 2.33m which will bag him a direct entry.
“I was going through the rankings and realised people with jumps poorer than me are above me on the table. I realised that most of the events I took part in up until the NCAA were low-category events. So that did not earn me enough points,” he explained.
“I know my only chance of making it to Tokyo is a 2.33m jump. I am going to go for it and even if I fail to reach the mark I will brush aside the disappointment and work harder.”
The Delhi-resident feels the Inter-State Meet, being a Category B event, would help him accumulate precious points in the run-up to World Championships slated for July next year. The Worlds, incidentally will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where Shankar bagged the NCAA silver earlier this month with an effort of 2.23m – his personal best (the national record) stands at 2.29m.
“My body overall is in good shape but my tummy isn’t that good with this sudden intake of spice. Let’s see,” he joked when asked about hitting the 2.33m mark.
Coming to India was a tough call to make despite having been inoculated with a Covid-19 vaccine.
”Everyone in America asked me to reconsider my decision, including my coach. But I had to be here. When my whole family tested positive in September, I felt so helpless,” he said.
“I couldn’t travel back or be with my family then. Those were really testing times and I felt so miserable. My 85-year-old grandmother recovered from the virus and I wanted to meet her too.”
Re-entering Indian shores wasn’t the hard part – a negative RT-PCR test was all that was required. Going back to the US in August, when his college semester commences, will be a challenge.
“I keep reading in newspapers how India is still considered a high-risk country. My studies will take a hit if I am not able to return by August for any reason,” added Shankar, who boarded a near-empty flight from the US to India.
By the time he got home though, his favourite meals were ready for him – including ghee-fried dosas. He’s also looking forward to gorge on a few plates of Chole Bhature after his event on Saturday.
“Abhi aur masala bharna hai pet me. I have to load more spices into my tummy.”
Men’s 4x400m improve chances qualification
The Indian men’s 4x400m team of Muhammed Anas Yahiya, Amoj Jacob, Arokia Rajiv and Noah Nirmal clocked 3:01.89 minutes in the 4x400m one-lap heats in Patiala on Friday improving their rank from 16 to 13th. The women’s 4x100m team of Archana Suseendran, Hima Das, S Dhanalakshmi and Dutee Chand meanwhile clocked 43.50 seconds, falling 0.45s short of the Tokyo entry standards of 43.05s in the heats.