Denis Kapustin is wholesome in his praise for M. Harikrishnan. Appointed around five months ago as India’s jumps coach, Kapustin, a Russian, couldn’t travel to either Eugene for the World Championships or Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games because of visa-related issues.
That did not stop the triple-jumpers Eldhose Paul and Abdulla Aboobacker from clinching the Commonwealth gold and silver medals, courtesy of some online lessons by Harikrishnan, coach at the SAI South Centre here.
“I am very happy and feel a part of this success,” says Kapustin. “But I can’t say I gave much [inputs]. I joined only recently. So, all credit to coach Hari.”
However, for the next two years until the Paris 2024 Olympics, Kapustin’s role is expected to be central. Four Indian men feature among the top 25 triple-jump distances this season – Praveen Chithravel and Karthik Unnikrishnan, along with Eldhose and Aboobacker. But their bests are still way off the medal-winning distances at the world level, which often tend to be upwards of 17.50m.
“Their performance is enough for CWG, but for the future, they need to train harder and reduce technical mistakes,” says Kapustin. “In competition, you can win with just one [good] jump. Eldhose proved it.
“In Birmingham, he had like 16.30m, 16.40m… and one big winning jump. He did 17.03m by jumping from 17cm behind the line. So, he has room. But still, it is not enough for Worlds and Olympics.”
But what gives Kapustin hope is the fact that Eldhose did finish ninth at the Worlds on debut and Aboobacker has shown significant improvement in the last few months.
“Abdulla has a different style of jumping, focussed more on strength and I like it,” Kapustin says. “He has increased his results this season by 40cm. That is big progress. He was just one centimetre off Eldhose (17.02 to 17.03). I lost my silver medal at the Sydney Olympics by just one centimetre. So, I know the value of every centimetre.”
But rapid improvements in field events are agonisingly hard; world records across men’s high jump, long jump, and triple jump are older by 27 years or more. Triple jump, especially, requires a perfect combination of speed, power, and coordination across the hop, step, and jump phases.
“If you want to increase your speed and strength, there is much more injury risk like Neeraj [Chopra] took at the Worlds [in javelin],” explains Kapustin. “In our sport, like in Formula One, things can go wrong in a split second. Triple jump is beautiful to watch but very technical.”
“But athletes surprise. Someday they will suddenly jump half a metre more. This is not like a lottery but there is always that surprise element. CWG was not exactly a surprise, though I was worried after the Worlds. And I hope to see them on the podium again.”