Smashing the national record wasn’t on Tejaswin’s agenda when he landed in Coimbatore.
Tejaswin Shankar isn’t old enough to drive on Indian roads legally; but he can fly. The 17-year-old Delhi high jumper soared over 2.26 metres recently to obliterate the 12-year-old senior national record of 2.25m standing in the name of Hari Shankar Roy.
Tejaswin could well be the messiah Indian athletics has been waiting for. He doesn’t have a bad name either, with victory encompassed in it. More than any other sport, athletics needs a star in the world’s second most populous country. There are enough indications that it has stumbled upon a superstar.
Seldom has a coming-of-age party in Indian track and field been more spectacular.
The man of the moment — Tejaswin is no longer a boy — can talk as well as he jumps. “A star isn’t enough for Indian athletics. We need stars. Neeraj Chopra who set a javelin national record en route to the gold medal at the world junior athletic championship earlier this year is already one. He is my inspiration. We share a great bond. He was the first person to congratulate me on my national record,” he said.
Tejaswin has a kindred spirit in Neeraj, who is also from New Delhi. The high jumper also looks up to another Delhi man for positive energy, Virender Sehwag. “He was always positive and calm. Every athlete works so hard in practice that he or she has no reason to panic on the big stage. I learned the art of dealing with pressure from observing Sehwag. Staying relaxed during competition is critical to give your best,” he said.
Smashing the national record wasn’t on Tejaswin’s agenda when he landed in Coimbatore. “For every young athlete, the senior national record is always the magical mark. But I had no plans to have a go at it. Only after I cleared 2.24m on my second attempt did I get the belief that it was my day. Before I went over 2.26m, I conditioned my mind that the height was only 2.10. It took time for me to realise that I had broken a long-standing national mark. I celebrated like a crazy man,” he said.
After such a spellbinding feat he had earned his right to behave like one.
Tejaswin credited coach Sunil Kumar, who is also his physical education teacher at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, Lodhi Road, for his stupendous show in Coimbatore. “I usually go from a lower height. But my coach advised me before the Coimbatore meet to start above 2 metres. I easily cleared 2.06m in my first attempt. By the time I attempted 2.26 I was at my peak.
“The advice of my coach proved to be crucial in the end because in an explosive event like the high jump peaking at the right time matters a lot. Earlier I used to exhaust myself with needless efforts at lower heights. I made a daring attempt in Coimbatore and it paid off,” he said.
Sunil is more than a coach for him. “He was happier than I after the national record. For a school PET, it was a giant leap. More important, he isn’t a specialist in high jump coaching. He was a sprinter in his younger days,” Tejaswin said.
Tejaswin wouldn’t have become an athlete if not for Sunil’s eagle eyes. “I hadn’t even heard about athletics in 2012 when Mr Sunil asked me to try the high jump because I was 5’11” tall in eighth standard. Until then cricket was the only sport I played. Mr Sunil never pushed me but he ensured that I fell in love with athletics,” he said.
At 6’4”, Tejaswin is now a towering athlete, physically and metaphorically. The reverence for Sunil is still unwavering in him. “He saw something in me which I myself had no clue about. I’m here because of his belief in my ability,” Tejaswin said.