Tejaswin Shankar focussed on high jump at Tokyo Olympics after heptathlon national record

After setting his second national record a few days back, 22-year-old Tejaswin Shankar is focused on qualifying for the high jump at Tokyo Olympics even as he juggles studies and an internship.

Amit Kamath February 03, 2021 09:01:01 IST
Tejaswin Shankar focussed on high jump at Tokyo Olympics after heptathlon national record

File image of Tejaswin Shankar competing at the Commonwealth Games 2018. Reuters

Tejaswin Shankar is a man in a tearing hurry. At just 22 years of age, he holds two national records: in high jump and in heptathlon. He’s also on course to complete his six-year education at the Kansas State University in just five.

A week ago, he had never competed in the heptathlon — a seven-event discipline spread across two days which includes 60m sprint, long jump, shot put, high jump, 60m hurdles, pole vault and 1,000m. He first picked up the pole to compete in the pole vault a month ago. Yet he ended January by not just winning the heptathlon event in the DeLoss Dodds Invitational, but also surpassing the Indian national record set in 2008 by PJ Vinod.

In a country where context can often get swept off its feet by a groundswell of hype, Tejaswin remains grounded about his heptathlon NR.

“I feel like I have accomplished something. It’s a good feeling to be someone holding two national records especially coming from a country where there are over a billion people,” he said before adding, “But we have to look at the standard of the record as well. If a high jumper can break the heptathlon national record, we have to go a long way in terms of calling ourselves an athletics superpower. That being said, I’m still happy about my achievement.”

Even as Tejaswin lists how the heptathlon events are helping him become a better high jumper, he states that he was not ready to contend with the mental stress of competing in the two-day heptathlon.

“After I finished the 1000m run, someone asked me how I was feeling after breaking the national record. All I could say was, ‘I’m glad it’s over.’ That’s how hard it was after two days. When you compete in a single discipline (like high jump) you’re stressed for one day before the event, and then two hours or so during the event. But when it’s a combined event (like heptathlon), you’re thinking about it for two days before the meet, then during the two-day meet you’re thinking about it all the time. It’s not so much the events that tire you. More so it’s the mental aspects of being in that atmosphere for two days. For me, that’s the challenge of the combined events.”

Tejaswin’s tryst with heptathlon started as a way for him to become a more well-rounded athlete. Initially, it was also about him just helping his collegemates training for the five-event pentathlon. Then as he started beating them, his coach pushed the idea of him trying his hand at heptathlon.

“When I came in here, the big picture I discussed with my coach was that it was important to be an athlete before you can be a high-jumper. That’s how I started doing the pentathlon. After a while, I started beating my teammates, so my coach suggested we try heptathlon. It’s just a 60m dash and pole vault more than the pentathlon. That’s something I am still working on. It’s been one month since I learnt how to hold the pole right. Ideally, once I get a hang of pole vault, maybe next year or the year after that, we plan on doing the decathlon, just for fun,” Tejaswin said on Monday.

At major events like world championships and the Olympics, the heptathlon is held only for women. Men instead compete in the 10-event decathlon. Tejaswin is certain that for now, his focus is on the high jump, and qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics in July this year.

“From April onwards, I will put all my focus on high jump. April through June are the months I plan on taking a swing at the 2.33m mark and qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. As a collegiate athlete rather than a professional one, I cannot travel to Europe and compete in those meets which have points on offer towards qualification for Tokyo 2020. The only option I have is to jump 2.33m and qualify,” he said. His current personal best, which is also the national record, stands at 2.29 metres.

At the moment though, his days are tightly packed as he balances his athletic training, his fast-tracked degree, and an audit and assurance internship at a big four firm.

“The reason I came to Kansas State University was a sports scholarship. But after coming here I realised that my university has a really nice set-up. If you’re an athlete, you have your work cut out for you. You don’t have to worry about cooking meals and things like that. They even give you a stipend. All they ask from you is bring a 2.0 GPA. It’s a bare minimum requirement. When I came here I used to think if I don’t maintain 2.0 toh ghar bhej denge. So I told myself that I just need to maintain that much. But then my coach told me to work a little harder in the classroom as well.”

Tejaswin Shankar focussed on high jump at Tokyo Olympics after heptathlon national record

Tejaswin Shankar at the Inspire Institute of Sport. Image courtesy: JSW Sport

A senior at Kansas State University, Tejaswin managed to get early admission into the Masters of Accountancy Program, and could finish in five years what usually takes six years.

“The university offers a concurrent bachelors and masters program where while you’re finishing your bachelors, you can get admitted and start working towards your masters requirement as well. Usually, it will take you four plus two years to finish your bachelors and masters. But if I am able to maintain my GPA as well as take care of my course requirements, I can finish it in five years instead of six,” says Tejaswin.

While the rest of Indian track and field athletes have seen their year come to a grinding halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, Tejaswin — who is also doing an internship in audit and assurance with Deloitte — is grateful that staying in the NCAA collegiate system has given him the chance to keep on competing.

He has a simple goal for this year: “Olympics or no Olympics, I want to jump 2.33m this season in the high jump.”

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