There are late bloomers and then there is Eldhose Paul. Six years ago - almost 19 - Eldhose was yet to compete in the triple jump beyond the district level.
Cut to 2022 the triple jumper has put India on the top of the podium at the Commonwealth Games. On Sunday afternoon at around 4:30 PM IST, celebrations sparked across the country as Eldhose became the first Indian to win a medal in the triple jump event.
RELATED: Eldhose Paul wins gold, Abdulla Aboobacker bags silver in men’s triple jump at CWG
Despite what could be termed a meteoric rise, Eldhose doesn’t think his success came out of nowhere.
“I believe in gradual improvement. There were thousands of small things that I kept doing. All of that aligned together to get me where I am now. There was no magical spark or one big moment that put me here,” said the Kerala athlete the day before he won the historic gold.
Eldhose’s passion for sports began when he joined a boarding school in the sixth grade.
“There were some issues at home and I joined KEMHS Alangad. The physical education teacher there got me into sports.”
The 25-year-old shows no hesitation in admitting that he started taking athletics seriously solely because he wanted a job.
“I had a feeling that athletics was my way to financial safety,” he said.
Realising the need for better training to further his prospects in the field, Eldhose decided to join Mar Athanasius College,(MAC) Kothamangalam, a hotbed for athletics in Kerala.
MAR ATHANASIUS DAYS
But his journey almost fell apart at the first hurdle. MAC provides admission under Management Quota to athletes who have won medals at the state or national level.
As Eldhose didn’t meet that criterion, he had to attend the selection trials conducted by Kerala Sports Council, which would allot deserving candidates to various affiliated colleges with scholarships.
Unfortunately for him, the council admitted him to a different college. But Eldhose refused to accept that decision.
“I badly wanted to get into MAC. So, I decided to go to Thiruvananthapuram to appeal its decision. By some fortune, they agreed to my demand.”
Another factor that pushed him to travel all the way to the state capital, despite knowing the bureacratic complexity he would have to deal with, was the attention and appreciation he received from TP Ouseph, the head athletics coach of MAC, who had coached Anju Bobby George.
“When I came for MAC trials, Ouseph sir noticed me. I still don’t know what he saw in me, because there were many other national and state-level winners. That was a huge motivation for me,” he added.
For Ouseph, 2021 Dronacharya awardee, Eldhose’s success is a pleasant surprise. “I did notice his explosiveness and natural talent when he came for the college trial. I think he was jumping around 13m back then. But to be very honest, I never expected him to hit the heights he has so far. It is all down to his burning desire to succeed and the discipline with which he operates.”
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Eldhose’s relentless nature pushed him through there as well. In his first year in college (2015) he was judged to be not good enough for the triple jump despite training specifically for the event.
Just for the sake of participating, he took part in the cross-country race and pole vault and finished a credible fourth in the latter at the Mahatma Gandhi University meet.
But in his second year, Eldhose broke into the triple jump team and won the gold at the inter-university meet.
The next year, he joined the Indian Navy and went on to win the gold at the Services meet. In 2019 he was picked for the National side for the first time and came under the tutelage of M Harikrishnan.
“I have felt that my progression improved after I started training under Harikrishnan sir.”
Soon Eldhose was hitting 16m plus jumps consistently and began to be recognised as a presence at the national level.
A silver medal finish at the Qosanov Meet in Kazakhstan earlier this year ensured his qualification for the World Athletics Championships in 2022. At Eugene, he became the first Indian male triple jumper to qualify for the triple jump finals, finishing ninth.
Despite all the accomplishments, Eldhose thinks he can pass unnoticed even in his hometown of Ramamangalam.
“Only my friends might be able to recognise me. Sports people don’t get much appreciation in my place. I think it is common knowledge that in Kerala, you are worth nothing in the marriage market if you don’t have a government job,” he added a day before he clinched the CWG gold medal in Birmingham.
Even in the final, Eldhose’s body language never towered like a champion. He was muted in his celebration, went on with his routine and never allowed the pressure to creep in. Remember, all this, despite a poor first jump. The pressure seemed to be never there.
“I don’t have any superstitions or set practices. I believe in science and hard work.”
On Sunday, he also went past the 17m mark, often considered a defining mark for triple jumpers. For his former coach, Ouseph, this comes as no surprise.
“I have never seen a triple jumper of such short stature jump this far. He is blessed with some extraordinary genetics and he has put in so much work on it to perfect them. I am sure if conditions permit, he will break the 17m mark in the final,” said Ouseph hours before Eldhose breached the 17m mark.
“For me, medals are secondary. My focus is always on improving my personal mark and I think the results will follow,” said the 25-year-old.
The results did follow as he created a new personal best of 17.03m to lead a gold-silver sweep in the event, with Abdulla Aboobacker right behind him at 17.02m.
Eldhose Paul’s prediction of going unnoticed in his hometown will surely not come true. There would be no place in the southern state of Kerala where the triple jump champion can now walk around in anonymity.
After all, he has flown the tricolour high in Birmingham.
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