Jeswin Aldrin will look back at the 2022 athletics season as one that began with incredible hope, hit a few hurtful lows, before ending on a high with the promise of more to come.
With the last competitive jump of the year, the 20-year-old equalled his personal best with a leap of 8.26m to win gold in a very strong field, featuring CWG silver medallist Murali Sreeshankar and Muhammad Anees Yahya, at the National Games at IIT Gandhinagar. It also gave him the best possible start for the next year with an automatic qualification to the 2023 World Championships (qualification standard 8.25m).
In a way, Aldrin’s season has come full circle. His best jump on Saturday matched his best wind-legal jump at the Federation Cup in March this year. That, too, helped him qualify for the World Championships and met the qualification standards for the Commonwealth Games.
Yet in an inexplicable sequence of events, the national federation decided not to allow Aldrin to compete in either as it saw a dip in his form. Instead of preparing for those two events, he was made to rush to multiple cities for trials. While they eventually relented and allowed him to compete at the Worlds, he was left out of the team for the Commonwealth Games – Sreeshankar and Anees Yahya were preferred. It’s an experience that left Aldrin a little bitter. “The year started well and then there were problems regarding the qualification for the World Championships and CWG. I was a little depressed,” he admits.
He, however, has put all those tough times behind him. After a less than impressive effort at the World Championships – his first major international competition – where he was far below his best with a jump of 7.78m, he has found his mark over the last couple of months. He was leading a world-class field that included Olympic champion Miltiadis Tentoglu until the final round in Luzern and made a winning jump of 8.12m at the Golden Fly Series on September 11. And then came his winning jump at the National Games in India. “I just wanted to complete the season in a really good way. And it’s been that way. In the last couple of competitions, I’ve crossed 8m, and I’ve qualified for the Worlds,” he says.
More than the big jumps and the gold medal, Aldrin is happy with how he has become more consistent. He had a series of 7.98m, 7.85m, 8.21m, 8.07m, a passed jump and 8.26m in Gandhinagar. “In the previous competitions, my running approach was bad. I had some good jumps, but I was fouling every time,” he says.
The most unfortunate example was at the interstate championships in Chennai in June this year. A few foul jumps – though he had crossed the 8m mark – cost him a spot in the CWG team. “This time, I was focussing on not fouling, and I’m getting better at it,” he says.
Aldrin says his fouls at the start of the season were a result of his inability to control his explosive speed. “In this season, my speed improved a lot, but I was unable to control it in the running approach, the reason behind the fouls. After going abroad, I focussed on controlling the speed and the take-off,” he says.
He’s slowly learning to control not only his approach on the runway, but also how he prepares for the competition. “I used to be tight and not relaxed. Now I’m more relaxed,” he says.
Participation in international meets – post his disappointing performance at the Worlds – helped him gain confidence.
“At first, it was difficult to adapt to the competition feeling. It took me two or three competitions to understand that feeling. I wasn’t used to the crowds over there. When I went for the first time, it was hard for me. I was not able to think, I failed to focus. In the past, I used to take too much pressure. After getting the feel of the competition, it really helped. This time I tried to have more fun. I went swimming, and I saw the mountains. I was also training, but I took the time to relax,” he says.
All this, he says, will help him in the coming days. “I’ve gained a lot of experience from this season. I want to apply it next season,” Aldrin says.
Having already qualified for the Worlds, his targets are much simpler. “Now I can be a little relaxed. I don’t have to put pressure that I have to qualify for the Worlds. I want to be more consistent in the 8.25m-8.30m range. I can focus on getting better. That will help me at the World Championships,” he says.