As he got off the landing mat after successfully clearing 2.27m at the National Games, technical officials asked Sarvesh Kushare about the height for his next high jump attempt.
He had gone from 2.19m to 2.21m to 2.23m to 2.25m and then 2.27m. After clearing 2.27m on his second attempt, he did away with his cautious approach and went straight for the national record of 2.30m.
“Utne height pe 1 cm bhi pahad jaise lagta hai, (At that level even a cm is like a mountain),” one of Kushare’s compatriots would later say. And those extra cms did become a mountain for Kushare. He came particularly close on his third attempt, but the bar grazed heavily on the back of his leg and came crashing down. Despite the unsuccessful conclusion, Kushare had a great day.
He set a new Games record to win his first gold at the National Games. His successful clearance of 2.27m is the second-best height cleared by an Indian, just behind national record holder Tejaswin Shankar’s 2.29m.
“It was always my intention to go for the national record. Ever since Tejaswin got the national record, a lot of people are thinking about 2.30m. Our coach also said that we should get to 2.30. Everyone supported that effort,” Kushare says.
The high jump event had started around 3.40 PM and Kushare jumped 2.27m nearly two and a half hours later. “I was a little tired,” he admits. “But everything else was good. I was in a good rhythm and the crowd was also supportive. The ground was good. I could have got it.”
Kushare’s earlier trysts with the 2.30m – at the Indian Open Championships in 2019 and at the 2022 inter Services championships – had also ended in failure, though he had managed to match his personal best of 2.26m.
Kushare, however, knows he is getting closer to the mark.
Hailing from Deogaon village near Nasik in Maharashtra, Kushare was introduced to high jump by his school’s physical training teacher RW Jadhav. “There was nearly no support at that time. We had no equipment so Jadhav sir would get it from wherever we could. We didn’t even have a landing mat in the village, so we made our own. Jadhav sir created one with the discarded shavings of maize. But sir made sure we got the best training,” he says.
At around 180cm, he is amongst the shortest competitors in the high jump competition, but he is not deterred by all the shortcomings. “I’m not very fast or strong either. My coach used to tell me I just have a god gift for jumping because I don’t have any other abilities,” he says.
Training under Jadhav, Kushare managed to improve to a credible best of 2.17m. “That jump got me a job with the Army. After that I’ve been training with Jithin Thomas,” he says.
Kushare’s progress has been steady, and he improved his personal best to 2.21m in 2017, 2.24m in 2018 and 2.26m in 2.19. While the Covid-19 pandemic flattened his trajectory, he returned with a giant leap at the National Games.
“My goal at the start of the year was to do a 2.30m or 2.32m and qualify for the World Championships. But I failed to do that. But next year we have the Asian Games and I want to prepare for that. I hope I will be able to build on my performance,” he says.
Coach Thomas, who held the previous Games record, believes Kushare is on the right track. “He made a few mistakes today that cost him. He holds his foot too close to his body when he jumps. Because of that he is unable to activate his hips enough to whip himself over the bar. The hip movement isn’t there. He must also work on increasing his power. If he is able to make these corrections, he easily has the potential to be a 2.35m jumper,” the Services coach says.
Kushare knows he has work to do and is buoyed by the success of his role model, Avinash Sable. “I am very inspired by Sable. He is an athlete from Maharashtra. We speak regularly. He gives suggestions on training and diet. We meet whenever he comes to Pune,” says Kushare.
Support also comes from Tejaswin Shankar whose record he’s looking to break. “I speak to Tejaswin very frequently. He is actually very positive and tells me where I could improve,” says Kushare.
While Kushare may have missed out on the record on Sunday, he believes he has it in him to get there eventually. “There is no guarantee. But I know that if I work hard, I can get to 2.30m one day,” he says.