Jeswin Aldrin never looked at the board while making his last and only legal attempt of 7.78m in the final of the men’s long jump competition at the Athletics World Championships.
It was a brave but ultimately futile effort from the 22-year-old who finished in 11th place in what was his first World Championships final.
Things were already going bad for Aldrin before he took what would prove to be his last attempt in the men’s long jump final at the Athletics World Championships.
On his first jump on Thursday evening at Budapest’s National Athletics Centre, he had overstepped so spectacularly that it was only the very edge of his right heel that touched the take-off board.
The 22-year-old, who had come into the competition as the World Leader in outdoor jumps this year., not only fouled that attempt but only barely avoided injury as his take-off slipped on the edge of the board. That unexpected skid roughly jolted his ankle and although he continued to compete, Aldrin’s competition was essentially over at that point.
“I was really shocked when I slipped. I was in good shape but I didn’t hit the board properly. I just slipped forward. I was just grateful that nothing major happened. I avoided injury but I completely lost my rhythm,” Aldrin would admit later.
Aldrin says he missed the take-off board by as much as he did because he had no choice but to stretch himself to his limit in the World Championships finals. “When you are in the kind of competition at the World Championships you have to stretch yourself as much as possible. You want to go as hard as you can, get as fast as possible to the take-off board,” he says.
Indeed as Aldrin tried to regain his composure, lying down on the side of the long jump runway, staring up into the blue sky to clear his mind and miming his run-up and take-off routine – he could see his competitors throwing out massive numbers.
Even as Aldrin first spoke to his coach, Miltidatis Tentoglu of Greece cleared a massive 8.50m. As he sat down on the track to get his bearings, he watched on the big screen as Jamaica’s Wayne Pinnock jumped 8.40m (he would later jump 8.50m himself). As Aldrin bounced on his feet trying to will his limbs into following his wishes, another Jamaican - Carey McLeod - jumped 8.27m. There would be no respite as jumper after jumper went above 8 meters.
“The Worlds are completely different to any competition I’ve competed in. There’s no competition in India where two other jumpers are doing 8.50m and others are doing 8.27 (Tajay Gayle of Jamaica would also jump that mark),” Aldrin would say later.
Aldrin admits he might have had a less egregious foul on his first attempt had he been looking to see where the take-off board was as he got into his runway approach. But the fact that he didn’t was a conscious decision. If a jumper looks to see where the take-off board – located roughly 40 meters away from the starting point – is as he is running in, it is clear that he is sprinting conservatively. He might find the board but without speed, his jump is sure to be a curtailed one.
Aldrin didn’t try to find the board in his first attempt. Instead, he stared at a point somewhere above the sand pit and trusted his muscle memory to do the job. It might have worked in previous competitions but here at the World Championships, it clearly didn’t. “I was going full speed in that first attempt and I felt perfect on the board. But I know it wasn’t,” he says.
In his second attempt Aldrin overstepped by about a third of his foot, still a pretty major foul. “I was feeling good before the start of the competition. Coach (two-time world medallist Yoandri Betanzos of Cuba) was telling me to just attack the board. I was trying to do that,” he says.
But even as Aldrin continued to attack, the shock he got from his first attempt meant his speed – which directly translates into distance – was curtailed. While he might have been tempted to avoid the ignominy of making three straight fouls by just trying to find the board, Aldrin says there was no thinking of playing it safely. “I was telling myself I can’t go slow or easy. I knew I had to give my 100 per cent. This isn’t a national meet.”
While Aldrin finally managed to hit the centre of the board, his lack of speed only got him a modest result – his second-worst jump of the seven competitions he’s competed in this season. “It was not a perfect jump. If I had executed it properly I would have got top 8. The speed was not there so I didn’t get any distance,” he says.
While the fact is that Aldrin didn’t get the result he wanted, it’s also true that by refusing to take the easy way out when there was little hope of success, he displayed the mentality that the best athletes in his event do.
Miltiadis Tentoglou says he had a very similar thought process to the Indian ahead of his final jump of the competition too. Although the Olympic champion had a jump of 8.50m the same as Wayne Pinnock, the Jamaican was in gold medal position since he had a better second-best jump in the competition.
With all to fight for in his sixth and final attempt, Tentoglu says he willed himself to simply run in fast and not think about where the take-off board was. “I just said to myself ‘I’m not going to hit the board’,” he says.
Although it worked as he told himself Tentoglu says this isn’t always the case. “There have been many times in the past where I’ve told myself to go all out and run in as hard as possible but it’s not worked out. At last year’s World Championships also I was in second place (To Wang Jianan of China). I told myself to run in as hard as possible then also but I didn’t find the board like I wanted,” he says.
Aldrin came into the final with a similar all-or-nothing approach but he rolled the wrong number on the dice. However, the fact that he didn’t take the safer approach is something Tentoglu would understand.
“If it (just going in as hard as possible and not looking for the board) works all the time I would be a beast of a jumper. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but you have to give it your best shot all the time,” he says.
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