‘Would a Javelin pierce my chest? Was my fifth step good? Oh, the bar didn’t fall. I am such a fool’ — Tejaswin Shankar conquers mind demons to win CWG bronze medal

‘Would a Javelin pierce my chest? Was my fifth step good? Oh, the bar didn’t fall. I am such a fool’ — Tejaswin Shankar conquers mind demons to win CWG bronze medal

Because the federation didn’t initially select Tejaswin Shankar to the Commonwealth Games squad, and he had to go to court to even get the chance to compete in Birmingham, you expect a flood of rancour to unload from the young man soon after he wins India’s first-ever bronze in high jump. But we forget that when stepping onto their field of play, athletes empty their minds of all needless fluid thoughts – like airports security unemotionally upturn your bottles of water.

Some pretty wild thoughts of dire scenarios did cross his mind on Wednesday, when the tall Delhi lad clinched bronze with a jump of 2.22 m on countback. But none of them involved finger-wagging or any score-settling against a federation he had dragged to court for being plainly anal. The wildest stream of thought will immediately endear him to you, because surely everyone has felt “that” fear.

“Oh, the javelin event of heptathlon was going on during my final and at one crazy moment when I looked up in the sky it did cross my mind that what if the javelin (from the other end of the stadium) hurled by one of the women, hits and pierces through me! If Neeraj Chopra was around, that might have even happened,” he recalls, of the irrational paranoia he quickly waved away since his buddy wasn’t even competing in Birmingham.

Focus jogged back to high jump, Tejaswin was on his way again. Though a bunch of distractions popped up all around – medal ceremonies were calling for attention as national anthems rung out, the 10,000 m final was raising one din as a Scottish runner was threatening to dislodge a pair of Kenyans, javelins were flying vaguely in his direction ofcourse, and a camera rig following the 10,000 m stragglers, was start-stopping intermittently. “High jump medals are rarely about how high you can go. They are about how high you can go, despite these distractions,” he would say.

He had jumped more than 2.22 m at his last CWG (2.24m) and yet finished 6th at the Gold Coast. Australian Brandon Starc won in 2018 with 2.30-plus. On Wednesday, the entire field couldn’t go past 2.25m. Tejaswin, four years wiser and pickled in tactics after his stint at Kansas’ NCAA, knew the Aussie and Kiwi Hamish Kerr would be trouble. There was also Donald Thomas, who won high jump at the Delhi 2010 Games, the Bahamian always dangerous in tripping up youngsters. But Tejaswin Shankar had a plan.

Cautious, calculated

Taking the bus from the athletes’ village to the Alexander Stadium, Tejaswin had already done what he told himself he ought never to do: allow his hyper mind to race ahead of itself. Only, he was self aware, and began chanting ‘Process, Process, Process’ the moment he realised he was already imagining himself on the podium.

“My mind is strong but it races fast,” he would explain later, of his mind reaching the podium before the feet did. “I had to slow myself down with cue words. Pinch myself back to reality. And stay in the moment.”

He had done well in keeping himself in contention, knowing fully well a countback could come into play, i.e. the fewest number of attempts on the lower jumps – he got to 2.10m, 2.15m and 2.19m on his very first attempts, consciously. “It’s what I was mumbling to myself, looking like one fool out there. But it was important to not miss the bar, or you’d have had Donald Thomas (who also finished at 2.22m, but took more attempts) sitting here,” he quipped. Local Joel Clark-Khan was also stuck on 2.22m, but again having consumed more attempts than the Indian’s careful clean sheets. No X’s. Only O’s.

Another factor was to come into play, the smart Tejaswin alert to it, in a jiffy. “I knew the weather would start getting cooler here by 7 pm. So it was important to pull on the tracks, keep warm if you are not used to the chill in the air when jumps start going awry. Another reason why the first few bars could not be missed,” he recalls.

By the time the bar was on 2.25m and Tejaswin did indeed miss his first two attempts, his earlier clean go’s had ensured the bronze. “I was waiting to see if Don Thomas missed on 2.25m. Once i had secured the bronze, I didn’t want to settle for it. So I went for gold, attempting 2.28m,” he would explain.

The Indian would pass on his last shy at 2.25m, and put Kerr and Starc under pressure by choosing the one-or-done option of nailing 2.28m, and get into gold contention. The confidence had come solely from his earlier strategy of being secure in a situation of a countback (fewer attempts needed).

The 2.28m was missed though, and the bronze was taken. “Some days you get it, some you don’t. Some days I made it happen, today I couldn’t,” he would say later, adding the bronze meant a world to him given he didn’t want to return empty handed. “I’m going back with some hardware. So all the struggles have been worth it. I’ll celebrate it with my mother who’s been up all night watching me.”

The federation tussle

In whatever was their wisdom, the Athletics Federation of India chose initially to not pick Tejaswin. Backed by his lawyer parents, the Delhi youngster went to courts and got an order in his favour. “The moment I saw the entry list, I knew i had the bronze at the very least. Don’t mean to be cocky,” he would say. But the organisers had to be persuaded to burgeon India’s quota. “I’m grateful to the IOA and AFI for helping me get in finally,” he would say, though five days back, he was sitting at home watching the opening ceremony uncertain about coming to Birmingham even.

His time with NCAA shaped his mindset for precisely such scenarios. “A lot of credit to the NCAA I know there will be good days, bad days, horrible days.” The bronze was dangling right there, but Tejaswin was the first to know it could all dissipate if he messed up. “If I didn’t get the jump, I’d be going nowhere. I was aware of that.”

He had been determined to not allow the controversy to spill over into his mindspace. “The moment I got my visa, I adopted a positive mindset, and removed all negative thoughts. Because physically, mentally, you have to be focused on the jump. Make things happen. I had my opportunity. I didn’t want to change any routine.” So he stuck to the process.

Related Posts