Setting great goals

Prajusha-R. RAGU

The Kochi leg of the meet was mediocre in many ways. However, Prajusha and a couple of other athletes proved to be in a different class, writes Stan Rayan.

There is a young long and triple jumper in Kerala who is thinking big these days and Anju George is not the inspiration for her big goals. “Anju is a big star, so far away from the rest of us, it is tough to imagine we could do anything like her,” revealed M. A. Prajusha, who lit up the NIFE Indian Grand Prix with a stunning 13.54m leap in triple jump in Kochi.

“It was only when Mayookha Johny came up with those big jumps last year that we realised that we could try them out too. Mayookha helped us break many mental barriers.”

The Kochi leg of the Grand Prix, which opened the Indian athletics season, was a mediocre meet in many ways. One could understand, for it was the start of the season, a time when athletes begin to shake off the rust, wake up from a slumber of sorts.

But Prajusha and a couple of others proved to be different. The 22-year-old Railway star from Thrissur had come prepared. She had been fine-tuning her jumps, under the watchful eyes of SAI coach M. A. George, with an eye on this November’s Guangzhou Asian Championship and next year’s New Delhi Commonwealth Games.

Her 13.54m, a whopping 40cm above her personal best, should place her among the country’s top four triple jumpers ever, behind National record holder Anju George (13.67m), Anisha K. Vijayan (13.57) and the current National champion Mayookha Johny (13.56).

But Prajusha is not looking at the small steps in front of her. She is confident of producing a big leap which would carry her over the rest.

“I’m looking at 14 metres this season,” said Prajusha confidently.

If she does that before August 3, the young girl has a good chance of going to the World Championships in Berlin (August 15). She will also become the first Indian woman to compete in the hop, step and jump event at the Worlds. A 14-plus jump could also fetch her a medal at the Asian Championship.

“I had been concentrating on the long jump all these years, this year I’ve worked more on the triple jump,” said the young girl who trains in Bangalore.

She has also made a change in her long jump style, switching from the basic sail technique to the more popular hitch-kick. “That should take me to 6.50 metres this year,” said Prajusha, who has a personal best of 6.33m in the event.

Prajusha’s confidence and climb should have Indian athletics jumping for joy.

With Anju George towards the end of her sparkling career, in which she won India’s first World Championship medal in 2003 and the Asian Games and Asian Championship long jump golds, Prajusha’s intense rivalry with her State-mate Mayookha Johny — who is being hailed as the heiress to Anju’s throne — should be the toast of Indian athletics in the future.

“Mayookha, with her spring and explosive power, is naturally very talented but I feel Prajusha has a better technique,” said former national coach T. P. Ouseph, who trained Anju and former Asian star high jumper Bobby Aloysius in their early years. “At their best, the two should produce some thrilling contests both in long and triple jumps.”

Surprisingly, Prajusha took to athletics as a high jumper. “My elder sister Vinisha was a high jumper and when she left our school, her teachers wanted me to take up high jump,” said Prajusha, whose father was a cook in a Kochi hotel a few years ago. “But I was never comfortable with the Fosbury Flop, my take-off was very awkward,” she said.

Om Prakash Singh’s personal best of 74m — 54cm more than his previous best — put him in the 24th spot in the world list this year.-A. M. FARUQUI

And when she landed at the Thrissur SAI Centre in 2002, coach M. A. George introduced her to long and triple jumps immediately.

“I felt her height — she was 1.64m then, now she is 1.67 — was not suited for high jump,” said George. “She has a good technique and her speed has also improved this year. The good thing is, it’s all a gradual process, she has been progressing steadily.”

Shot-putter Om Prakash Singh (ONGC), who quit basketball and moved to athletics a few years ago, also impressed in Kochi with a personal best of 74m — 54cm more than his previous best. That performance put the 22-year-old in the 24th spot in the world list this year.

With many major championships lined up in the next couple of years, the domestic circuit could be on a high in the near future as athletes stretch to reach the qualifying marks.

Mayookha Johny, with her spring and explosive power, is naturally very talented but