Praveen Chithravel listens to mother, joins triple jump 17m club

Praveen Chithravel is not one to overthink. By his admission, he will follow what his favourite actor, Kamal Haasan says in the movie Vikram, “Pathukalam da (We'll see as it comes).”

Method to the madnes | Praveen has taught his new coach, Cuba's Yoandri Betanzos a few bad words in Tamil as no other way of admonishment works when he needs to work on his technique.   -  Velankanni Raj B

Ahead of the triple jump event on the final day of the 61st Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships in Chennai, only four Indian men in the history of the sport had recorded a distance in excess of 17 metres.

Two of them, Abdulla Aboobacker (personal best and season best of 17.19m) and Karthik Unnikrishnan (PB and SB of 17.10m), entered the club less than a month ago. Both are raring to go and are fan favourites at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Tuesday evening. Spectators also get behind Kerala’s Eldhose Paul, who fell painfully short of the mark with a jump of 16.99m at the Federation Cup in Thenhipalam earlier this year.

Not bothered by the noise, a 21-year-old in red jumpers limbers up nearby. This is his home turf; some know it, many don’t.

A group of athletes from Uttar Pradesh, meanwhile, raves about Aboobacker’s take-off. “Speed dekhi hai bhai ki? Hawa jaisa bhaag raha (Have you noticed his speed? He runs like the wind),” one of them says. Two others nod in agreement.

The conversation, which goes on for a while, is cut short with an “Oye teri (the equivalent of an incredulous what the… gasp)” as the announcer screams: 16.90.

That 21-year-old in the red jumpers, now in a white sleeveless vest, Tamil Nadu’s Praveen Chithravel has just passed Aboobacker’s first jump – 16.67m. The UP athletes cannot hold back their surprise.

As Praveen saunters back, his Cuban coach Yoandri Betanzos calls out to him from the upper tier of the eastern stand. “Calm down,” is all he says. Praveen hears him and walks on to where he was a few minutes ago.

The event continues and competitors play catch-up with Praveen’s mark. Praveen gets back to his pre-jump routine. He stands calmly with both hands to his ears, maybe in an effort to shut out the raucous celebrations after Aboobacker’s second jump of 16.89m. The game is afoot. A little later he is back to opening his arms wide and standing still for a few seconds.

It is time for his second jump. Praveen gestures to the spectators to clap for him. They promptly respond. Two huge steps and a hop later, a collective gasp at the photographer’s end conveys it is a big jump. Praveen’s celebration draws the crowd into the moment. The athlete knows it's a big jump, the crowd senses it. It seems like a whole minute before the announcement finally comes: 17.18.

The organisers confirm on the mike, “Good news coming in from triple jump! Tamil Nadu’s Praveen Chithravel has gone past the meet record and has qualified for CWG (Commonwealth Games) with a jump of 17.18m.”

The 17.18m jump which earned Praveen his World Championship berth

 

Incidentally, Praveen has also gone past the World Athletics Championships qualifying standard of 17.14m. The earlier meet record was Arpinder Singh’s 17.17m set in Lucknow in 2014. Renjith Maheshwary’s 17.30m in 2016 is still the national record.

Praveen’s mother, Prema, calls immediately after he wins the event. She saw her son in action on the live feed. “She cried. She had told me, it's your home ground... you know what to do. I don't need to tell you what to do,” says Praveen. The young man from Thanjavur district hasn’t been home in nearly eight months.

He isn’t able to talk to her for long. Officials usher him to the podium for the victory ceremony.

Later, Praveen lets on that he is fighting through pain to compete. “There was a blood clot in my heel in May after the first jump while participating in a meet in Italy. But I jumped three more times just for the ranking and those jumps were in the 16.20 range. But the pain increased.

“From there on, for the next three weeks, I did not train intensely. Same way, today, too, I did not come in with anything in mind. All three of my coaches just asked me to go out there and give my best. During training, too, we didn't jump much. Even training with spikes was sparing. I came directly and competed. It's all about smart work and we worked on elements that were required as per the situation,” he says.

Praveen is now being mentored by Betanzos, a former world-class triple jumper and twice world championships silver medallist, but doffs his hat to every coach who has been a part of his athletics journey.  

Betanzos has taken over coaching duties from Antony Yaich at the Inspire Institute of Sport founded by the JSW Group, which supports Praveen.

READ: Triple jump: Arpinder the star, Praveen the fledgling

Praveen talks about the similarities and differences between both. “He (Betanzos) joined us last October-November and we're just building a relationship. It's going well. Both (Betanzos and Yaich) are very similar in some ways, and different in others. Yaich focused on speed and power, but Betanzos focuses on explosive abilities and jumps, and consistently works on technique. His focus is on perfecting it. We've worked on the technique to perfect 60-70 per cent of the process. I expect the 100 per cent to happen, or I can tell you if it has, only by Paris (Olympics) 2024.”

Praveen has asked Betanzos to be tough on him, in case he gets distracted. “I've taught him a few bad words in Tamil. Only that works when he needs to pull me up for my mistakes. Nothing else seems to work,” Praveen jokes.

Praveen reserves words of gratitude for a special man, one of his childhood teachers. “Mathiyazhagan Sir was my science teacher. He used to spend his own money to take me to district meets and other competitions. So, I owe him a lot. He could have just taught me science and gone ahead with his life. But he didn't,” he says.

 

Praveen doesn’t have any grand plans for CWG Birmingham and the world championships in Oregon yet. “I don't overthink these things. I am just focusing on doing my best in training every day, and trying to stay away from being lazy.” By his admission, he will follow what his favourite actor, Kamal Haasan says in the movie Vikram, “Pathukalam da (We'll see as it comes).”

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