Tejaswin Shankar: ‘I love to do what the others don’t’

Tejaswin Shankar battled selection uncertainties to fulfil his dream of winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games, but the 23-year-old doesn’t wish to dwell on his achievement.

A dream come true: Tejaswin Shankar with his bronze medal.

A dream come true: Tejaswin Shankar with his bronze medal. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Tejaswin Shankar battled selection uncertainties to fulfil his dream of winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games, but the 23-year-old doesn’t wish to dwell on his achievement.

Tejaswin Shankar is much at ease now, with a Commonwealth Games bronze medal in high jump finally adorning his trophy cabinet. He says he is “chilling” at home in Delhi, watching Tamil and Hindi flicks on over-the-top platforms.

His mother, though, is making life a bit difficult for the lad, slipping in a spoiler or two when he is deeply engrossed in a flick. Even their choices don’t match.

However, this is a problem Tejaswin would love to have, memory he would love to cherish. For he doesn’t remember when he last spent these many days with his family.

“Movies that have a nice storyline interest me. My mom, even if she hasn’t watched some movie, will look it up on the internet and reveal the plot. Pure evil. We can’t watch movies together also because she and I have different preferences. She digs masala films, I am more into the ones with good storylines,” he says.

He is still not happy that his mother danced for everyone but him during the athletes’ reception ceremony at the airport. “With one of my luggages stuck in London, (it was delivered to Tejaswin’s house the next day) I came out of the airport quite late. We were supposed to reach by 11.30am, but I made the exit at around 1-1.30pm. Judoka Tulika Maan’s flight was the first one to land and there were  dhol nagade (drumming) to greet her. My family also went and danced with them. Later, wrestler Bajrang Punia walked out. My mother danced a bit more. By the time I finally came out, she had already run out of juice,” Tejaswin laughs.

On Rakshabandhan (August 11), Tejaswin’s cousins came over to tie him a  rakhi. You could hear peals of laughter crackling through the phone as Tejaswin struggled to speak without having to raise his voice.

“I just came back from training and a hearty breakfast from Tamil Nadu Bhawan. They were all waiting so that we get to sit and eat together. But I was quite full so we were all chatting.”

Even Tejaswin’s  dadi was there at the table, with whom Tejaswin has to speak in Tamil. “She doesn’t speak Hindi. She is very particular about our roots.”

Rocky ride

Tejaswin’s ride to Birmingham 2022 was rocky. He had to watch the opening ceremony from his home as his visa arrived only a day after the event. Though he had achieved the Games qualification standard of 2.27m at the NCAA Championships in Oregon on June 12, his name was excluded from the Commonwealth Games squad for missing out on the Senior Inter-State Athletics Championships in Chennai, the final selection trial for the Birmingham Games. After a favourable verdict from the Delhi High Court and some last-minute drama, the Indian Olympic Association finally got the nod for his participation on July 22.

With only a little over a week remaining for competition day in the quadrennial mega-event, Tejaswin started to wonder whether he should participate at all.

One giant leap: Tejaswin Shankar in action during the high jump final. He held his nerve, urging the crowd to cheer for him as he battled for a medal.

One giant leap: Tejaswin Shankar in action during the high jump final. He held his nerve, urging the crowd to cheer for him as he battled for a medal. | Photo Credit: AFP

“My first thought was ‘it is better to not go at all’. ‘What if you go there and embarrass yourself by registering a bad performance?’ Anyway, my Commonwealth Games record isn’t good (finished sixth in Gold Coast 2018). I didn’t want to hammer in the last nail. That’s when (Cliff) Rovelto (Tejaswin’s coach at the Kansas State University) and Sunil sir (Tejaswin’s Physical Training teacher at school) told me, ‘If you get an opportunity, make sure you make the most of it.’ And once your coach has instructed, who am I to say no to that? When they have these many years of experience, it is better I use their strategy than use my own little brain (laughs).”

However, it’s history, and the past is something Tejaswin doesn’t dwell on for he has a lot to look forward to.

Defying norms

He has signed an offer letter from  Deloitte, one of the ‘big four’ international consulting companies. He is supposed to join the U.S. branch of the London-headquartered company on September 5. Then he has his high jumps. And now decathlon as well.

“I am the guy who loves to do what the others don’t. I love breaking norms. I am like a rebel child. Balancing a job and sport is always difficult. My coaches said I am going to be an auditor... a public accountant and then I will always have to sit in my office and clock lengthy hours. But that is what I took up as a challenge. If everybody thinks I cannot do something, I have to do it. That is what gives me satisfaction. I just don’t want to give it up because somebody feels it is going to be hard.”

But what if there comes a point when things do get tough to balance and he has to make a choice?

“Obviously, I will give up my job and completely focus on sports,” Tejaswin replies immediately.

Team effort: Tejaswin being welcomed by his mother Lakshmi Shankar and sister Avantika upon arrival in India. He was grateful for all the efforts of his mother in getting him to Birmingham.

Team effort: Tejaswin being welcomed by his mother Lakshmi Shankar and sister Avantika upon arrival in India. He was grateful for all the efforts of his mother in getting him to Birmingham. | Photo Credit: PTI

“In my mind, you can always work when you are in your 30s or 40s but when it comes to sport, there is a limited window of opportunity. I will give myself a year to see if both are possible or not.”

New challenge

Tejaswin, who initially had plans to participate in decathlon in the India Open Nationals or the National Games, isn’t too sure about it now. During these competitions, it will only have been a few weeks since Tejaswin would have started his corporate life. He says, “There is only around a week between the Open Nationals and the National Games. People do one or two decathlons in a year — let alone two — in two weeks. It is not possible to be at your best then in all 10 events. So now the question is do I want to do the high jump in one and decathlon in one? The bigger question is whether I will be able to start work and then come back in a week or two. I am yet to figure out. Once I go there, I will be better placed to make a choice. If I am not able to do it, I will go back into training and then take some rest because I have been competing since December last year.”

Tejaswin, by his admission, is yet to master the “more technical events” of discus throw, javelin throw and the pole vault in decathlon. Although one might wonder why Tejaswin chose to add to his stress by participating in 10 events instead of one, the high-jumping decathlete explains his decision and how decathlon helped him get better at his pet event.

“When I went to the Kansas State University, every year we did this thing called ‘the baseline testing’. What happens in this is, no matter what event you participate in, everybody goes through identical routine tests. You run 15 seconds as fast as you can, you run 45 seconds as fast as you can, your aerobic and anaerobic capacity is checked. Standing long jump and standing triple jump helps detect power. These are all measured indicators of how your power or strength translates onto the track.

“When we were doing this for the first time, I had a very good performance in the 45s and 15s runs. I got better in 400m. Interestingly, my jumps improved as well. I felt more confident because I was running faster. People tend to make long jump too technical but I see it as an amalgamation of two things – how fast you can run and how much power you can generate. Since I knew a bit of long jump and triple jump, the next thing I tried was the hurdle. There are always three steps in between the hurdles and that rhythm is what taught me to generate more push in the last three steps of my jumps. What started as a fun training routine became a serious event.

“My body also doesn’t recover in the way it does for other people after a jump session. You cannot afford to jump once and then take a 15-day off. So, you have to find alternative ways to still train at a high level and find alternate options. That’s where decathlon came in. It also removed the boredom from my regular jump routine. We found out a way to keep my mind and body engaged. When you get to learn the physics behind each and every event your interest automatically grows.”

When Rovelto came to know about Tejaswin’s podium finish at the Games, the septuagenarian responded with a training plan for the next day. The message, Tejaswin says, was clear. The grill has just started. “I will be training with him when I join work. My office is less than an hour away from Kansas State University.”

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