A great run

Six years ago, Renjith Maheswary was a confused youngster. An athlete who chose a rather odd combination of long jump and high jump, the 16-year-old was a mediocre jack in both.

“I wasn’t going anywhere and I didn’t know what to do,” said the youngster, peeping into the past. Despite his best efforts, he could not get anywhere close to seven metres in long jump or cross six feet in vertical flight at Kottayam’s Nehru Stadium.

But SAI coach Udayakumar was very impressed when the tall Renjith came to the Kollam centre for a trial in 2002.

“One look at him and I knew he could be moulded into a top class triple jumper. But he had not tried the event, didn’t even know how to do it,” said Udayakumar. “So, I told one of my trainees, Sreekumar, to do a demo.”

A little later, Renjith came up with an impressive 13.20m in his maiden effort.

Today, the 22-year-old is among the best in Asia. He has even begun climbing the world triple jump rankings. Surprisingly, not many are surprised.

For, Renjith had prepared us all for it. Over the last two years, he had been consistently jumping past 16 metres and the question of the next metre was not ‘will he’ but just ‘when’.

“He has gone past 16 metres around 40 times, after doing it first at the all-India universities meet in Jamshedpur three years ago. In fact, 17 metres was his target last year and for the Doha Asian Games,” revealed Udayakumar.

Renjith came up with a personal best 16.54m in Doha but it could just fetch him the fourth place.

Indian athletics’ newest star is now ranked 38th in the world and 18th in the season’s world lists (till June 27) this year. Two Chinese jumpers are ahead of him in the Asian lists for the season.

Renjith’s progress in the schools, universities, junior and senior nationals have been with some huge jumps. And within just about six months, he has improved his personal best by half a metre!

“I’ve improved my speed in a big way. And a small difference in my leg placement while landing is working wonders,” said Renjith, a ticket collector with Mumbai’s Western Railway. “Doing that 17 metres was tough but I’m now confident of hitting 16.85 metres more consistently. I have to improve my strength to get bigger ones.”

To put things in perspective, Renjith’s Guwahati performance would have easily fetched him the gold at the last Asian meet. In fact, nobody has touched 17 metres at the last seven editions of the event which makes him a hot favourite at the coming Asian championship in Amman, Jordan. Seventeen metres would have also comfortably got him the silver at last year’s Melbourne Commonwealth Games and Doha Asian Games. The Doha silver went to Kazakhstan’s Roman Valiyev with 16.98m while the gold was won by China’s Li Yanxi with 17.06m.

Renjith served notice by shocking both Li Yanxi and Valiyev while winning the Asian Grand Prix golds in all the three legs. “His progress from now on will be by small margins but I expect Renjith to touch 17.50 at his best,” said Udayakumar.

“Triple jumpers touch their peak around 25-26 years and Renjith has many good years to come. I’m sure he will be making a mark in the world circuit soon,” said the coach of the Kollam SAI Centre which is now churning out top-quality athletes. “Though the world record is above 18 metres (18.29 by Briton Jonathan Edwards in 1995), nobody has touched 18m in a long, long time,” said his coach. In fact, there are only four legal performances of 18 and over in the all-time lists, three of them by Edwards and the other by American Kenny Harrison in 1996.

“That’s because the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) is very strict these days. Cheats are staying away from meets or keeping away from drugs,” says Udayakumar.

Stan Rayan