As a little girl, Sherin Abdul Gafoor used to play cricket. She had also tried out swimming and gymnastics and was a good dancer too.
“My dad (Abdul Gafoor) was a cricketer in Chennai, so he pushed me into cricket. I played cricket for a year. And I used to win prizes for dance in cultural competitions at school,” said Sherin, the long jump champion at the recent National under-23 athletics championships in New Delhi, in a chat with Sportstar .
But as years went by, the Chennai girl realised that long jump was her true calling. With her twin brother Sharon into 400m hurdles, Sherin took to athletics when she was in the seventh standard and began doing the long jump seriously in the 11th standard at St. John's Matriculation School.
She was among the toppers in school and initially had plans to use her long jump to get a sports quota seat in medical college but later realised that it would be tough to balance both. She then joined the St. Joseph's Engineering College. “I was doing the B.E. electronics and communication for some three weeks before I quit. Engineering was very hard, I had to go to college early morning, I had time for only one training session and then I had to do my assignments so I decided I wanted to focus on sport and joined MOP Vaishnav College for BA (Sociology),” she said.
“My parents were very upset, it took me a year to convince them but as I began progressing (in long jump), they were convinced.”
Now, with her personal best 6.45m at the under-23 Nationals, Sherin is in a select bunch of seven jumpers who have done 6.45m or more in the last 10 years, a list that includes stars like Mayookha Johny, M. Prajusha, V. Neena, Nayana James and Shaili Singh who have won medals in the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian championships or under-20 Worlds.
This is a good time to do the long jump and after the javelin throw, where Neeraj Chopra brought the country its first Olympic gold in athletics at Tokyo, the event probably comes next in terms of potential and promise for medals at majors.
“Long jump is pretty competitive, the 6m is no longer a barrier, there are many young girls who are doing well as you saw at the National Open and the under-23 Nationals. That is also motivating me to do well,” said the 21-year-old.
Shaili is currently the country's most promising long jumper but she needs strong competitions and girls like Sherin, Sandra Babu and Ancy Sojan are capable of giving that. That should light up the event in the country, raise the quality of the sport too.
“After javelin, I hope long jump will also come into the limelight, I hope there is more support for us.”
Sherin is a consistent jumper. After winning the varsities Nationals gold (6.32m) early last year, she was a silver medallist at the Inter-State Nationals (6.26m) and the National Open (6.27m) this year before improving her personal best by 13cms at the under-23 Nationals.
“I was expecting it at the Open Nationals but I didn't get the board properly at Warangal. So I was confident that I'd do well in Delhi. I've increased my speed and changed my run-up a bit, that has worked. Now I have a better rhythm.”
With 2022 loaded with majors like Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World championships, there is a lot to look forward to for girls like Sherin.
“My goal now is to better my personal best in my next competition, if I correct my mistakes in take-off and landing, I can do it. I think it's possible to even do something like 6.60m,” she said.
Sherin, who was coached by P. Nagarajan at the Prime Sports Academy earlier, is now without a coach and is keen to join the national camp.
“Senior long jumpers now coach me at the Nehru Stadium. I need a good coach, it will be good if they take me in the national camp.”
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