Leap year, 1974

Yohannan's leap of 8.07 metres in Teheran was a longstanding Indian record.-MAHESH HARILAL

T. C. Yohannan's legendary jump at the Teheran Asian Games, and the evolution of a unique style, can be traced back to a childhood accident, writes Stan Rayan.

As he watches his son ploughing a lonely furrow at the Nehru Stadium, you realise how much T. C. Yohannan's world has changed. A few years ago, the former Asian long jump champion had strange notions about cricket. He had never been a fan of the sport. "It's a funny game, look how many breaks they have during the course of a match," he had said once.

But now, many cricket shields jostle for space with Yohannan's trophies in the crowded showcase at his home in Kochi. A couple of cricket `hangings', mostly meant to inspire, have taken over the walls too. And the former Asian record-holder spends a good part of his television hours watching the willow game these days. And when he talks about inswingers and yorkers, you realise that he has pursued his new hobby with the same hunger and passion that made him an Asian star three decades ago.

As you listen to him, it's obvious that he is trying to help his son Tinu Yohannan. In his own little way, Yohannan is trying to rekindle the fire in Tinu, which saw him become the first Kerala Ranji cricketer to play for the country in Tests and one-dayers four years ago.

"When you observe McGrath or Brett Lee, you have a feeling that they bowl a delivery that is an exact replica of what's in their mind. They appear very focussed. I always tell Tinu to do the same thing," says Yohannan, who recently rented a house in Chennai to stay with Tinu, and of course, to whet his appetite for the game.

T. C. Yohannan is 59 but he looks a lot younger. Three years ago, he opted for voluntary retirement from Telco but still, flab does not do a jig around his middle. He is reaping the rewards of a punishing schedule in his jumping days.

SON TINU'S CRICKET shields jostle for space with his legendary father's longjump ones in the crowded ohannan showcase T. C. Yohannan poses in front of it-THE HINDU PHOGO LIBRARY

As a little boy, Yohannan fell into a canal near his home at Marranad, in Kollam, while attempting to cross it one day. He went home to clean up the mess but his father was not happy. He took his son to the canal again and offered a small reward, a glass of lemon juice, if he jumped over it. He did. Thus began Yohannan's fascination for the jumps.

A FEW YEARS LATER, around 19, he moved to Bhilai to join his brothers and to study mechanical engineering. That decision changed his life. When the wiry Kerala youngster won the long jump and triple jump golds at the Prasanna Kumar All-India Meet in Bangalore, job offers poured in from many companies, including Telco, Tisco and Railways. "My brother advised me to join Telco and so I did. That was the best decision I made in my life. Telco transformed my life completely, helping me in every stage of my career. Had I stayed back in Kerala, I don't think all those wonderful things would have happened," says Yohannan.

With bright young men like Suresh Babu and Reghunathan, Telco had a lot of top athletes those days. And the Tata Sports Meet, which was held in Bombay those days, was a big affair. "We loved this meet for it gave us a chance to see Bombay," he remembers.

FOREIGN COACHES and scientific inputs go into the making of top Indian athletes these days. But the moulding of Yohannan was almost crude. "Our athletic coach at Telco, Suresh Gujrati, was not a qualified coach but he was very creative in his techniques and passionate about his work.

Gaining good height during the flight stage helps long jumpers. Gujrati used to do a strange thing. He kept low hurdles towards the end of the runway to help us go high. That, I think, really helped my performance."

That being the situation, his jumps had a peculiar hang style. "I used to throw my hip forward at the end of the jump. That gave me almost an extra feet," explains Yohannan as he shows the photo sequence of his gold medal jump at the 1974 Teheran Asian Games. That jump, 8.07m, was a big one and it broke the Asian record. It also stood as an Indian record for 30 years.

But four years later, tragedy struck Yohannan. He suffered a major injury at the Patiala national camp in 1978. "There was rain, so they had dug a new sand pit. But it was very loose, my knee just sunk in. I tore my hamstring and was in heavy pain. When they took me to a hospital nearby, there was no doctor that day. My leg was put on traction and by the time the doctor came the next day, my leg had swollen heavily. The media got wind of my injury. `Indian sport crippled,' said the headlines."

When Telco got the news, they arranged for the best treatment. But the damage had been done. And it virtually ended Yohannan's jumping career. But Telco gave his official career a new lease of life. "Sensing that I was keen on going to Kerala after Suresh Babu and Reghunathan took up Government jobs closer home, they gave me a transfer to Kochi. And since I was keen on sales, they gave me special training. And when I came to Kerala in 1983, I did a fantastic job. Anyway, Tata vehicles were selling fast." He soon rose up the ranks and became the top man in the state.

AROUND THE TIME HIS SON TINU'S international cricket career appeared bright, Yohannan opted for VRS. "The scheme was very attractive," he says. "And it's been a very satisfied life. You realise that you've done something for the country. People recognise you everywhere."

But, during quiet afternoons, his mind wanders back to his Bhilai days — jumping from one railway platform to another, golf at the Bheldi Club, and receiving the upcoming golfer award from cricketer Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi after a tournament.