A ‘sip of beer’, some chocolate cookies and a trip to Disneyland. This is how India’s 19-year-old high jumper Tejaswin Shankar plans to celebrate his historic NCAA title victory. On Friday, Shankar crossed 2.24m in his final attempt at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Oregon (US) to become only the third Indian to win a title after triple jumper Mohinder Singh Gill (1969-71) and discus thrower Vikas Gowda (2006).
Shankar had to contend with incessant rain and chilly weather as he overcame a strong pool of 24 jumpers. Due to the unfavourable conditions, the Delhi teenager decided to tread cautiously, increasing the height of the bar gradually (2.08, 2.13, 2.18 and 2.21 ) before clearing 2.24 in the third attempt for victory. He then raised the bar to 2.30m and came close to crossing it in his second try but eventually settled for the previous mark. The effort comes just weeks after he wrote a letter to the Athletics Federation of India about his decision to skip the upcoming Asian Games due to a strained neck. The decision, a tough one in Shankar’s own words, was taken to avoid any career-threatening injuries.
“I really wanted to end the season on a high especially after deciding to skip the Asian Games. Heading into the competition being ranked one, I was under immense pressure. I couldn’t sleep at all last night but I am relieved and glad now,” said Shankar.
Training under coach Cliff Rovelto, Shankar made a major tweak to his technique earlier this year. He picked up the two-handed technique which added more meat to his jump and helped break his own national record twice in the span of two months.
The improved thrust in his take off came at a cost. Since he hasn’t perfected the technique as yet, the youngster finds himself landing on his neck instead on of his upper back. This minor flaw runs the risk of causing life-threatening injuries if not rectified. And Shankar did not have much choice but to decide against taking part in Asiad and focus on his rehab.
“Even now people call me and tell me it’s just a matter of one jump. Go to the Asian Games. But they don’t understand the amount of hard work that goes into making that one right jump. I would have to make at least a hundred jumps before the Asian Games. If God forbid, something goes wrong, it could mean curtains for my athletics career,” explained Shankar.
Shankar’smother too backs his decision. “He has become what he is due to his efforts. We have never interfered with his athletics decisions and so will it be this time too,” mother Lakshmi said.
Shankar’s effort on Saturday drew appreciation from all quarters. His phone was flooded with congratulatory messages. Among those left impressed by the youngster’s feat, was Mohinder Singh Gill, the first Indian to win the NCAA title.
“It’s a world-class event. And his performance was excellent. He is in the best place at the moment and I think if he continues to work hard he can even medal at the Olympics. He should make use of all the facilities and the coach he has,” said Gill over the phone from California.
Ever since moving to Kansas, one area that Shankar has worked immensely on is his diet. The once strict vegetarian is now a convert ,and he isn’t complaining. On insistence of his dear friend and Commonwealth Champion javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, he decided to take the plunge.
“Who knows non veg food could have done the trick,” said Shankar who once detested the smell of fish, but now is a huge fan of seafood. “ I love shrimps, prawns and lobsters. Even my mom doesn’t know that as yet,” he added.
Shankar will take a few weeks off from training, during which he will visit the Disneyland in Los Angeles with his family before returning to Kansas to begin his off season and rehab program. He will also munch on some chocolate cookies that he has been resisting for a quite a while. He also “needs to” respond to every congratulatory message he has received over the social media. “Aaj toh bas reply karne me heen nikal jayega,” he laughs.
As for his celebration plans, the youngster had to be coaxed a bit to spill the beans.
“It’s just a sip (beer) Just one pint in the whole year wouldn’t make any difference,no?”