Tejaswin Shankar breaks his own national high jump record

AP Photo/Anupam Nath

Having first set a national high jump record as a schoolboy, Tejaswin Shankar has done it again in his first year of college. Competing for Kansas State University, Shankar cleared a height of 2.28m at the Big 12 Indoor Athletics Championships in Ames, Iowa. In doing so, he bettered his own mark of 2.26m that he had set at the Junior National Championships in Coimbatore in 2016.

The height cleared by the 19-year old at Iowa State University is the best this year amongst athletes from Commonwealth countries, marking him out as one of the best prospects for an Indian athletics medal at the Commonwealth Games in April. It is even more remarkable in that it came at an indoor meet -- where athletes generally jump far lower than in outdoor competition.

Shankar's jump was a whopping 9 cm above his previous indoor best -- another Indian record -- of 2.19m, recorded in January.

It was a surprise for Shankar too. "Acchi chizen achanak se aa jati hain (Good things happen suddenly)," he said.

Shankar had begun his collegiate career in great style, setting the 2.19m mark in his very first competition. Encouraged by his coaches to take part in other events, he also competed in the relay and long jump. That decision nearly cost him dearly.

At a competition in February, he jumped an impressive 7.40m in the long jump -- a mark that would have been competitive in Indian senior competition too -- but twisted his knee while landing. The injury caused him to skip his next tournament and doubt his chances for the Big 12 Championships, a premier competition featuring the universities competing in Division 1 of the NCAA.

"I'm really surprised with today's effort because I'm still not completely recovered from that injury. Looks like it decided to settle down and let me jump," Shankar says.

It was Kansas chief coach Cliff Rowelto who really believed in Shankar's prospects. In his first training session after the injury, Shankar barely cleared 2.20m despite taking off from a 15cm high ramp. "When my coach Cliff Rowelto said I was looking good I was like 'how?', but I guess that was his experience that was talking," he says.

Despite his record, Shankar remains grounded about his achievement. He points out the fact that the best effort of his career saw him finish with a bronze behind Trey Culver who cleared 2.31m and Vernon Turner who cleared 2.28 with fewer fouls. Shankar himself made three attempts to clear 2.31 but missed them all.

"There are 195 countries in the world and there is a national record holder in every one of them. But there is only one World or Olympic champion," he had said a few weeks ago. For now, Shankar is only targeting consistency. "It's all about consistency. It's about doing the 2.25m consistently then going on the 2.30 and the 2.35m," he says.

For the moment, Shankar has little time to celebrate his record. A long bus journey will take him to Kansas where he has a day to set his affairs in place before he flies home to India. "I have to pack my clothes, pay my rent, fix the car insurance and get stuff for my friends," he says.

It makes little sense for Shankar to make the long journey to India instead of preparing for the Commonwealth Games, but he has little option. His original goal for the Big 12 Conference was to come close to the mark of 2.25m that the Athletics Federation of India had set as a qualifying standard for the Commonwealth Games. He then planned to clear that mark at the Federation Cup in Patiala, that was to serve as a qualifier for the Games.

And so, having set a record in Iowa, Shankar will now look to match that accomplishment in Patiala next week. "I guess I can't get a refund on flight tickets now," he jokes.