Karnataka’s B. Aishwarya on Sunday produced a “personal best” record-breaking leap of 6.73m at the National Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships in Chennai.
Aishwarya, now India’s second-best all-time long jumper after the great Anju Bobby George - who still holds the national mark of 6.83m set in Athens 2004 - went past Mayookha Johny’s 11-year-old meet record of 6.63m.
The mere fact that Aishwarya did all of the above in what wasn’t even her pet event, sets up a mouthwatering final on Tuesday evening against the likes of Ancy Sojan and Shaili Singh. She will also be participating in the women’s triple jump on day four of the meet.
“We are more focused on triple jump. In long jump, in her last nationals (60th National Open Athletics Championships), she had done 6.52m. So, I was expecting her to do better than that. But she has ended up doing so good. It is a pleasant surprise,” coach B. P. Aiyappa says.
Asked if Aishwarya was hitting similar distances during training, he says, “Before coming to the Open Nationals last year, she was jumping 6.15-6.20m in practice. And in Open Nationals, she jumped 6.52. Before coming here, I measured her. She was jumping in the range of some 6.40. Hope she does well in the finals and breaks the national record (NR).”
From being denied entry into stadiums to injury management, the road, thus far, hasn’t been smooth for either Aiyappa or Aishwarya. Aiyappa, who is yet to get a contract with the Sports Authority of India (SAI), says, “Her right knee had been operated on in 2019, owing to a sprain of the anterior cruciate ligament. We hired a personal physio. We were doing everything then with our own efforts. Later, JSW took over and we are thankful.
“The Kanteerava Stadium was closed for a long time. We used to travel about 40kms every day. The stadium recently opened for Khelo India. The pit was in a bad shape too. SAI didn’t allow us then. The hockey players were there and outsiders weren't allowed to enter.”
Aishwarya’s blistering pace on the runway caught the eye of Pramila, an Olympic heptathlete, Railways sports officer and Aiyappa’s wife, during a selection trial.
She decided to train under Aiyappa starting 2019 and hasn’t looked back since. “I am a big believer in strength. She has been with me for the last two-and-half years. When she came to me, her long jump best was about 6.15m. In triple jump, she had done 13.20m. She is not even half the size of Anju. Although she is very short, she is very explosive . I won’t be surprised if she registers a 6.80m or 6.90m soon,” said Aiyappa.
At a recent state meet in Udupi, Aishwarya made heads turn. “We implemented the half approach there. Without a full run-up, in 10 strides, she jumped 6.80m in long jump and 13.30m in triple jump. When you go from half to full approach you can add 80cm to almost 1m to your leaps.”
For now, Aiyappa, former national 400m champion, will still focus on training Aishwarya for triple jump, he says. At some point in the future, he will let Aishwarya focus more on long jump, if she will still be interested.
“We will be focusing on triple jump only. She is practising triple jump but somehow her long jump skills are also getting honed. Maybe in the future, if she does really well in long jump, we will stick to that because triple jump may make you injury-prone.”
Pramila held the national record in long jump in 2004 (6.56m) until Anju broke it. Now Aiyappa’s ward has a shot at the top of the leaderboard. “It gets personal here (laughs) . Jokes apart, Anju is a very good friend.”
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