Once again talent has prevailed over lack of infrastructure and mass support. At 14, Tejaswin Shankar wanted to be a fast bowler. In fact, he did play for his school cricket team. But then Sunil Kumar Patial, the physical education teacher in his school, Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, in Delhi, got him attracted to athletics. And the rest, as they, is history. Today, less than two months away from his 18th birthday, Shankar holds the national high jump record (2.26 metres) for seniors, created last week at Coimbatore.
"One day in 2013, during recess, I saw him chasing a boy and I couldn’t take my eyes off the natural bounce in his running," recalls Patial, a former sprinter himself. He immediately saw in Shankar a raw talent for track and field, especially jump, events.
"I wanted to shift him to athletics but his father was adamant on cricket and coming for athletics training before school in the morning was ruled out for Shankar," remembers Patial. Moreover, Sardar Patel Vidyalaya has had a cricket history with former India batsman Ajay Jadeja being its most well-known alumnus.
But somehow, Patial managed to draw Shankar towards athletics and began telling him the basics of jumping. Soon he was jumping 1.70 metres on a sand pit.
And when Shankar broke the school high jump record, his lawyer father had a change of heart. But unfortunately, he didn’t live long to see his son raising the bar to set the national record. He died of leukaemia, but not before revealing that he too was a long jumper in his younger days. At six feet four inches Shankar has the natural advantage of genetic endowment.
Impressed with Shankar’s exploits, the school provided him with a jumping pit.
A modest Patial admits he doesn’t have great knowledge of high jump, a highly technical event. But then Shankar, an equally modest and honest, young boy, reveals that they "work through action clips on YouTube and so on".
In June, Shankar was all set for bigger things at the Asian Junior Championship in Ho Chi Minh City, but he suffered a groin injury and ended up sixth. As a result, he also missed the World Junior Championship in Bydgoszcz, Poland. But it also turned into a blessing in disguise.
"As jumping was not possible, I began weight training during the lay off," says Shankar. Perhaps the strength that he built up helped him improve his speed to 11 seconds for 100 metres.
And it ultimately helped him set the national record in Coimbatore.
Shankar's story is surely an inspiring one, and he is an odd man out in Delhi, which has always been a city of middle and long distance runners, and is not known for producing jumpers.
With the advantage of jumping ability and speed, Shankar is bound to do well at high hurdles. And with a little more muscle on the young shoulders, he should be an automatic choice for decathlon as well. The late Suresh Babu and N Annavi are the two classic example of such a transition.
"Yes, we have it in mind," admits Shankar’s coach, philosopher and guide Patial. It is just a matter of time!