Neeraj Chopra has forced a country of one billion to take a close look at javelin throw. His historic gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics surely must have inspired several kids across the country to pick up a javelin.
The men’s long jump contest at the Federation Cup athletics, held recently at Tenhipalam in northern Kerala, proved that there was another event that demanded India’s attention. Three men went past the 8m mark in the same competition, a remarkable feat in the Indian context.
There was plenty of drama in the men’s long jump competition held on day two of the meet. Tamil Nadu’s Jeswin Aldrin’s second jump measured 8.37m. It appeared he had broken the National record of Kerala’s M. Sreeshankar (8.26m), and also registered this year’s top jump in the world. The 20-year-old’s joy, however, didn’t last long: the wind had become the villain, with a reading of +4.1m/s, well above the permissible limit of +2.0m/s.
With his third jump, Sreeshankar broke his own National record set last year, registering 8.36m. He also qualified for the World championship, as did Jeswin, with his fourth jump of 8.26m. Muhammed Anees, Sreeshankar’s teammate, was the other athlete to go past 8m, which he achieved with his third attempt, after fouling the first two.
“It is great that three of us crossed 8m here,” said Sreeshankar. “It was unfortunate though that Jeswin’s jump was affected by wind.”
If the long jump contest caught the attention with its quality, the men’s high jump competition witnessed one of the most courageous and inspiring sights one would ever see in an athletics meet.
Praveen Kumar, who has a congenital impairment on his left leg, competed in the meet and gave a solid performance. The 18-year-old from Noida had won the silver in high jump’s T64 category at the Paralympics in Tokyo a few months ago.
The Paralympian captured the imagination of the spectators. Running up to the bar and clearing it smoothly, braving his disability, Praveen’s performance was undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable moments of the meet. It was an image of the indomitable human spirit. He finished sixth, with a jump of 2.06m. R. Manivannan of Tamil Nadu (2.15m) won the event.
The other men’s jump contest — the triple jump — also proved a highlight, quite expectedly. The presence of Arpinder Singh (Punjab), Eldhose Paul (Kerala) and Praveen Chithravel (Tamil Nadu) had created a buzz about the event. While Arpinder has already crossed 17m in his career, his two younger rivals have been threatening to do it.
The Kerala athlete nearly did it at Tenhipalam, in fading light, as the competition resumed on the final day after the rain. His jump of 16.99m won him the gold, while Praveen took the silver (16.84m). Arpinder disappointed though as he could finish only 10th, with his jump of 14.99m.
It had become rather dark by the time triple jump competition ended. A couple of hours earlier, the organisers may have feared whether they could complete all the events, for the weather had changed drastically, shortly before the start of the action on the final afternoon.
Heavy rain, lightning, thunder and a very strong wind made the beautiful green ground, bordered by the brick-red synthetic track, resemble more of a vast field destroyed by a storm. Most of the tents — including the one for the media — were blown away, the various electronic gadgets required for the meet were drenched, the large screen on the ground had to be removed, live-streaming of the event had to be paused and there was a power failure, too.
The meet had to be stopped.
But, just before that, Amlan Borgohain ran a superb race to create a new National record in the men’s 200m. He beat the rain, the wind and his seven rivals to clock 20.52s, erasing the 2018 record set by Kerala’s Mohammed Anas (20.63s). Given the conditions, it took a long time before the 23-year-old from Assam could confirm the timing — and just as importantly — the wind-assistance.
When it finally became official that he had indeed broken the record, he could not stop smiling. “This is perhaps the happiest day in my life,” he said. “I hadn’t done well in the semifinals, but I am glad that I could come back the way I could. Yes, rain was a problem, but I come from a place where it rains more than anywhere else in the country.”
His coach James Hillier said he was expecting such a performance from Borgohain.
He was disappointed though that another ward of his, Yarraji Jyothi of Andhra, could not set the National record in the women’s 100m hurdles. Her timing of 13.09s was comfortably ahead of the existing record, established by Anuradha Biswal (13.38s), but she was undone by the wind.
The five-day meet also saw Avinash Sable of Maharashtra creating a new meet record in the men’s 5000m on his debut. The National record-holder in steeplechase was competing in the 5000m for the first time in a national event.
There were also fine efforts from the likes of Kirpal Singh (men’s discus), Annu Rani (women’s javelin) and Aishwarya Mishra (women’s 400m). More was expected from the likes of Dutee Chand, Hima Das and Priya Mohan, though.
But, then, the season has only begun. And the Federation Cup has raised hopes for Indian athletics in the year of the World championships, the Commonwealth and the Asian Games.