Tejaswin Shankar's first encounter with the Commonwealth Games came when he was an 11-year-old in New Delhi. In what comes as a surprise for people familiar with his abilities as a high jumper, it had nothing to do with athletics. "I had no idea about athletics back then," he says. "I had gone to see the weightlifting competition because that's the only tickets I had then."
Shankar will have the best seats in the house in Gold Coast's Carrara stadium for the 2018 edition of the games -- right in the middle of the action. On Wednesday, Shankar jumped 2.28m at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala to equal his own Indian high jump record that he had set last month. That mark was also well clear of the 2.25m that had been set by the Athletics Federation of India as a qualification standard for the Commonwealth Games.
Shankar's performance on the day was as close to ruthless as possible on Indian soil. While the rest of his competitors trailed off, Shankar kept improving steadily. He showed few nerves on the crucial 2.25m jump, clearing it in his first crack at the height. His clearance of 2.28m, also on his first attempt was made with inches to spare. Shankar even came excruciatingly close to making an enormous 2.31m on his first attempt at that height. He had passed the bar cleanly before the very tips of his heel dislodged the rod even as he made his descent.
There is a case to be made that Shankar shouldn't even have had to compete in the Federation Cup considering he had set both the indoor (2.19m) and overall (2.28m) high jump records in just the past month. But Shankar took the demand to match those performances in his stride. "It's one thing to do the national record abroad and another to do it in India," he says.
Tejaswin Shankar matches his national record of 2.28m in the high jump at the Federation Cup. pic.twitter.com/kv0YeSrePV
- jonathan selvaraj (@jon_selvaraj) 7 March 2018
It was a bold step considering he had little time to acclimatize having made a red-eye journey from Manhattan, Kansas to Patiala. His body had barely had time to recover from the stresses of the travel. "Yesterday night I just couldn't sleep because of the jet lag," he says. "I was up at 3 in the morning wondering why I couldn't sleep."
That lack of rest looked to take its toll as he brought down the bar on his first attempt at 2.10m. It was all too reminiscent of his performance at the same venue and competition last year, when he wiped out at 2.13m in what was considered the trials for the Asian Championships. "When I missed my first jump, I was wondering what was going on and whether I would be able to clear the bar at all," he says.
Those doubts were laid to rest with his very next attempt as he marched confidently to the record. If there was any disappointment of missing out on the 2.31m height, Shankar didn't show it. It was the very height he had missed at the Big 12 Conference in Ames, Iowa where he had first cleared 2.28m. "Even in that competition I had come close to clearing 2.31m in my first attempt, but couldn't manage," he says. "Rather than doing it over here, I hope I can do it at Gold Coast. I'm getting a lot more consistent but I still need to improve."
But Shankar doesn't plan to dwell on the miss or revel in the record. He would rather study the areas where he could improve. The fact that the jet lag affected his performance is something he has noted. "I learned some things over here," he says. "I noticed that I had a lot of jet lag after a long flight. India is as far from Kansas as Australia is. So I will use the experience I had when I travel for the Commonwealth Games too."
At Gold Coast, Shankar is expected to push for a medal, perhaps even gold. His successful clearance of 2.28m is the joint best (along with three others) performance by a Commonwealth athlete this year. Yet Shankar isn't short of admitting he is going to have the ultimate fan experience too. One of his idols, Canada's reigning Olympic champion Derek Drouin, will be leading the pack. For Shankar this will be a Commonwealth Games moment to savour. "These are guys I had seen in videos," he says. 'It's just going to be so exciting to compete along with them."