20-year-old Indian long jumper Jeswin Aldrin’s season began with incredible promise as he recorded the best ever jump by an Indian long jumper. Now the 19-year-old who was once seen as the next big prospect in Indian athletics can’t even get a tournament to compete in. In a surprise decision the Athletics Federation of India announced on Thursday that Jeswin has been omitted from the Indian squad for the World Championships.

The news would have come as a serious blow to the teenager who only received his visa from the US Embassy on Thursday morning. After being denied a place in the Indian squad for the Commonwealth Games, he had been doubly focused on performing at the Worlds in Eugene, Oregon.

Jeswin had won gold at the Federation Cup in Calicut in April this year with a jump of 8.37m, the most by any Indian in history. While that jump would not enter the record books since it was made with a tail wind just over the legal limit, Jeswin would also make a wind legal mark of 8.26m. That was better than the qualification standard of 8.22m set by the World Athletics -- the world governing body for the sport. That mark is still the 7th best jump in the world this season and would have placed him fifth at the 2019 World Championships and won him a bronze at the 2020 Olympics.

Jeswin’s form has seemingly slipped since that tournament. In competitions in Italy and Spain in May, he jumped 7.82m and 7.69m respectively. However what possibly seriously hurt his chances were his performance at the National Inter State Championships in Chennai in June. After clearing 7.71m in the qualification round, Jeswin struggled in the final. He made five foul attempts and his only legal effort of 7.51m was only enough for 5th place.

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According to the AFI’s selection guidelines published in January this year, the Inter State Championships were to be the final selection trial to pick Indian teams. Jeswin’s weak performance there seems to have cost him.

As a consequence, Jeswin would be omitted from the Indian team for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Instead, national record holder Murali Sreeshankar and Muhammad Yahiya Anees, who had a lower personal best of 8.15m but was very consistent this season, were picked. That decision was somewhat justified since the Athletics Federation of India could only pick a total of 36 athletes since that was the quota allotted to them.

However what makes the decision to discard him from the World Championships squad surprising is that there is no quota on Indian athletes there. A total of 3 athletes can be sent by a single country in each event. However even here while Sreeshankar and Yahiya were picked, Jeswin was omitted once again. Jeswin's omission will hurt even more since he had qualified for the tournament by meeting the qualification standard rather than the ranking route most athletes take. In the long jump category for instance just 10 of the 32 participants in Eugene have qualified by meeting the qualifications standard. The rest including Yahiya have qualified through his world ranking.

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According to AFI president Adille Sumariwalla, Jeswin's deteriorating form was the reason he was not picked. “Although Jeswin had met the qualification standard for the World Championships, his jumps were getting lower and lower with each tournament,” Sumariwalla said during a virtual conference announcing the team for the world championships. “He only finished fifth in his event,” AFI planning committee chairman Lalit Bhanot added.

But while it’s true that Jeswin had a poor final, it’s also a fact that he had a much better performance in the qualification round where he finished in third place with a jump of 7.71m. Indeed a couple of his foul jumps in the final were also above the 8m mark.

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Adille Sumariwalla during a press conference in 2018.

 

There was some confusion over why the youngster's performance was slipping. According to chief coach Radhakrishnan Nair, the jumper was carrying some sort of injury. “His coach said after the Federation Cup that he was having some issue in his ankle,” Nair said. However, any injury would be denied shortly after by Bhanot when answering whether the federation knew where Jeswin was. “He is in Delhi for a visa. He is training and is fine,” Bhanot said.

As things stand it’s unlikely that Jeswin, despite having a visa, will be traveling to the USA. Great things might have been plotted for him at the start of the year but for now it seems he’ll have to head back to the drawing board.