Indian high jumper Tejaswin Shankar, 22, rewrote the national record in his first attempt at heptathlon at the DeLoss Dodds Invitational, in Kansas City. The high jump specialist amassed 5,650 points over two days to erase PJ Vinod’s tally of 5,561.
Hepathlon comprises seven events but Tejaswin, the Indian national record holder in the high jump, believed he had a good chance to break another mark.
“I looked up the national record on Wikipedia and then pulled out my calculator. I added up points I could potentially score and I knew I had a good chance. I was most worried about the pole vault event as it was a totally alien sport to me,” Tejaswin said.
At the Kansas State University, where Tejaswin is pursuing a degree in business management, all promising athletes undergo pentathlon (five events) training ahead of the outdoor season. Since the last two years, Tejaswin has been actively participating in the programme and feels it made the transition to heptathlon all the more easier.
“I was anyway training for five events and had to just add two more. We do this pentathlon training to build our bodies and assess our fitness levels. Our coach tells us it is very important to become a wholesome athlete,” Tejaswin explains.
At major sporting events, including the Olympics and the Asian Games, men participate in the decathlon, which consists of 10 events.
The initial success in the heptathlon has not taken away his focus from his pet even, the high jump. In fact, this will be his last multi-discipline competition this season.
“The outdoor season is about to start and I will go the extra yard to achieve the Olympic qualification mark,” he says.
Tejaswin’s best jump and also the Indian national record stands at 2.29 metres, while to achieve the Olympic cut he will have to leap over 2.33m.
When Tejaswin won the heptathlon title at the DeLoss Dodds Invitational on Saturday he couldn’t even celebrate the feat with his teammates. The strict COVID protocols allow only competitors inside a venue an hour before the commencement of their respective events. There are constant tests and monitoring, apart from social distancing.
“At our university, the athletes have to undergo a COVID test twice a week. Then each organiser has their own set of protocols and tests that we have to keep in mind,” he says.
“Even training was done in a phased manner. Time slots were allotted to minimise interaction. The coaching sessions would begin at six in the morning and go on till nine at night. You have to feel for the coaches. They have their task cut out due to the slot system.”
Although Tejaswin now strictly follows all the guidelines prescribed by the university a little slip in December almost proved costly. “We were clearly told that we should avoid social interactions. But it had been a long time since I had met my teammates. So about 7-8 of us decided to have dinner together but the next day one of them was positive. We all became close contacts and had to isolate ourselves for two weeks,” Tejaswin says.
The isolation meant Tejaswin and his mates could not continue their training and classes for two weeks.
“For an athlete, two weeks of no training is a huge thing. Our coach Cliff Rovelto was really disappointed and upset with us,” he says
Tejaswin admitted that he learnt his lesson and has vowed to never take the guidelines for granted.