On Friday morning, Tejaswin Shankar’s sister sent him a bit of an inside joke. It’s in the form of a note that detailed his attempts to be selected for the Indian athletics squad for the Commonwealth Games.
10 June – Yes! achieved standard
No – because of non participation at interstate
Maybe – wrote email to AFI
No – press release of team list being announced
Maybe – petition filed
No – first hearing
Yes – second hearing
Maybe – if quota increases
No – No quota increase
Yes – judge said should go
No – like to like substitute
It is Shankar’s way of making sense of the bizarre sequence of events that he has been in the center of over the last couple of months. It started off with a ‘yes’ after he had met the Athletic Federation of India’s (AFI) high jump qualification standard for the Commonwealth Games at the NCAA championships. Then came a ‘no’ when the AFI announced that he wasn’t going to be picked because he did not take part in the Inter State Championships.
Shankar would bounce between hope and despair for the next few weeks before getting what he thought was the definitive decision ‘no’ – when the IOA had announced two weeks ago that his name had not been accepted by the Commonwealth Games.
“We counted all the flip-flops. There are eleven of them. I’ve got my hopes up and then crashing down eleven times in the space of a month and a half,” says the 23-year-old
Make that twelve. On Friday evening, news broke that the Commonwealth Games Federation had accepted Tejaswin Shankar’s inclusion in the Indian team, after two previous members had failed dope tests.
Tejaswin himself was informed by a simple Whatsapp message from the AFI – a screengrab of a letter purportedly from the CWG informing that his entry had been accepted. Having gone through multiple roller coasters of emotion, Shankar wasn’t quite sure how to react. “After I heard that my name wasn’t accepted by the Commonwealth Games Association, I’d resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to go. I probably won’t believe it until I’m actually in Birmingham making my first jump,” he says.
Indeed assuming his season was over, Shankar had flown from Manhattan where he had competed for four years as a student-athlete with the Kansas State University, back home to New Delhi in order to spend some time with his family. Entirely by coincidence though, he was practising the high jump when he got the news that he might be flying out once again.
“After the last ‘no’, I wasn’t sure what to do. My coach (Cliff Rovelto, the jumps coach at Kansas State university), he’s coached multiple Olympic and World medallists. Even he didn’t know what to do since he’s never seen anything like this. But we thought we would take part in one decathlon by the end of the season. So I made plans to have a jumps session,” he says.
Shankar went to New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium where he’d started his career. “I thought thodi purani yadein tazaa karta hun. (I’ll freshen up a few old memories),” he says. By his account, he had a pleasant low-intensity session. “I even had a small audience,” he says of the stray dogs who now frequent the athletics track at the stadium that was home to the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Shankar was satisfied with his session. “Physically I’m in great shape but emotionally I just don’t know. It’s very different to train thinking you are in off-season, than when you are preparing for a competition. The intensity is very different,” he says. Shankar has a week and a half to get himself switched on. “Maybe it will happen. Right now I’m thinking it’s going to be difficult. But maybe as it gets closer, I’ll actually start feeling, yes I’m going to be part of the Commonwealth Games. This is a big deal,” he says.
He won’t have all the 11 days to psych himself up though. “I’ll have to get my visa. Do the biometric thing at the UK Embassy. I’ll have to find out about my kit and my ticket. Right now I’ve no idea when that will happen. I’ve asked the federation for any documentation of what I’m supposed to do but I haven’t got it yet. If I manage all of this, I’ll probably get to Birmingham just in time. Forget about any acclimatisation. That’s not going to happen,” he says.
With all this going on, Shankar’s a bit bemused that he’s just expected to simply switch on and be at his best in Birmingham. He wants to stay realistic about his hopes. “I’m not sure what kind of state they expect me to be when I get there. If they expect me Medal jitu ya naa jitu, mom ka dil jit lunga, ki beta TV pe aa raha hai!. (I don’t know if I’ll win a medal or not. But I’ll win my mother’s heart. She’ll just be very happy that I’m going to be on TV!)”
That’s assuming there aren’t any further U-turns in the next few days. Based on recent experience Shankar isn’t sure that will be the case. He’s hopeful though. The last addition to the note he and his sister share explains just that.
It simply says -Yes?
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