The enormity of his achievement at the high jump pit add to his 6’4” frame, lending Tejaswin Shankar a towering presence. Aware that his journey in the world of sport has just about begun, the 19-year-old wears that lightly on his shoulders. The Delhi lad, who recently raised the National record to 2.28m, draws from many sources in his quest to evolve as an athlete and as a person.
While he can be the typical teenager with no qualms as evidenced by his social media handles where a sense of humour stands out, he is prepared to make the sacrifices when working hard to refine his skills. The ease with which he shifts from teenaged exuberance to an intense person who is committed to the demanding pursuit of excellence.
A conversation about the mental aspect of his sport is revealing. As he analyses and expresses his national record-setting effort in the Federation Cup in Patiala, it is clear that he is gifted with the ability to encapsulate a string of moments across long time intervals with ease. It is this aspect of his that sets his apart from many of his contemporaries.
“I did not realise that I could bring myself under so much pressure that I could not sleep in the nights before the Federation Cup in Patiala,” he says. “And, no, it did not have to do with jet lag. I had recently introduced changes in my technique and cleared 2.28m in the Big 12 meet in Ames, Iowa. But that was indoors. And I had not jumped outdoors since June last year.”
Tejaswin also knew that the competition would be intense since Railways’ Siddharth Yadav had jumped 2.23m on his comeback trail. When the teenager failed to clear 2.10m on his first attempt, Tejaswin Shankar felt as if his legs were giving up on him. Many thoughts, not all of them in the positive realms, flickered in his mind.
For a brief moment, he even wondered if it was worth travelling the distance from the United States. But the voice of renowned coach Cliff Rovelto, who is refining Tejsawin Shankar’s skills in Kansas State University, echoed in his mind and he was able to shake the self-doubts off and usher in positivity.
“I brought in reinforcing thoughts to pick myself up. ‘I am the champion. I am the best. I am No. 1. I can do it,’ I told myself,” he says, reminding himself to write these memories down to be able to recollect and replicate later. “If I had said all this openly, I could have been accused of being an arrogant athlete. I was only letting the positive thoughts take over and reaffirm my belief.”
Having dropped the bar at 2.10m, he knew he had to outjump Siddharth Yadav to win gold. “I liked the confidence and the calmness that came to me when I cleared the bar at 2.18m by a big margin. I knew then that I would seal the deal. The rhythm was there, I was feeling good in the runway and expressing myself through my jumps.”
The intense battle at the high jump pit showcased the enormous respect he has for fellow athletes. His friendship with javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra – who he believes is a game-changer – is pretty well documented but the encouraging conversation that he had with Siddharth Yadav in the moments before the latter cleared 2.25m to qualify for the Commonwealth Games was a welcome revelation about his warm personality.
The lesson Tejaswin Shankar learnt after improving his own National Record from 2.26m to 2.28m is interesting. “I felt happy I set a new mark but there was an emptiness since I had not get past 2.31m. I need to focus on the whole process – including tucking the legs over the bar – before thinking I have done it,” he says, referring to dropping the bar with the tail end of his shoe.
“It had taken me two years to move from 2.26m to 2.28m and I began to wonder if I would have wait long to get to 2.31m. It was then that a conversation with Wayne Lombard, who is a mentor and is one of the few people I can speak my heart out to, helped. He told me that I had to learn to appreciate what I had done.
“I had read about focusing on getting process right and letting the results follow but, in Patiala, I learnt about it first-hand. I learnt that high jump is not so much about what the competitors do as it is about my own temperament. I had to take care of the little bits that add up to a good technique – a straight run-up, the curve, the gathering of the energy over the last few strides and the take off.
“I realised that I must celebrate moments like these before recalibrating and setting new goals. In fact, I realise that in sport, there are more failures than successes. I am now back to getting the processes right, visualising a high mark each time I jump and taking care of each detail that combines to make high jumping such a technical sport in itself,” he says.
During a chat with zevenworld.com, he revealed that he is seeking consistency and improvement that he has seen in his cricketing idols, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli. “Everyone knows what they have achieved on the cricket field. I want to bring their positive attitude into my own event,” he said.
Tejaswin Shankar has already shown maturity far beyond his teenage years. And despite being one of the youngest Indians in the Commonwealth Games athletics squad, his performance has indicated that he can be one of the India’s inspirational sportspersons and, adding layers to his own personality with each competition, be on a journey on the road to excellence that his own idols have been on.