Long jumper Jeswin Aldrin could not have hoped for a better end to the season. The 20-year-old from Tamil Nadu qualified for next year’s world championships in Budapest with a last jump of 8.26m at the 36th National Games here on Saturday. Spectators and others broke into huge cheers all around the long jump pit as Aldrin produced the highlight of the athletic programme and breached the qualifying mark for the worlds (8.25m).
It was a fulfilling end after what Aldrin has gone through this season. A dip in performances led to the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) questioning his form. This after he had already made the cut for the World Championships in Eugene, US. The young jumper was eventually allowed to compete in Eugene only after two selection trials.
“I came to the National Games with a plan to qualify for the worlds and I am glad I achieved it,” said Aldrin. “It is a nice way to close my season. After this, I am taking a break for 20 days and going home.”
“This was my first season representing India and competing with top athletes. So I gained more experience. I will put all that into training and my target next season will be to do a good jump outside India in a big stage and be more consistent,” he said.
On Saturday, Aldrin reeled off a fantastic series—7.98, 7.85, 8.21, 8.07, 8.26. He has had a thrilling rivalry going with Commonwealth Games silver Murali Sreeshankar through the season. At the Federation Cup in April, Aldrin produced 8.37m, the longest jump by an Indian, to win but it was not ratified as a national record due to a higher than permissible tailwind. Sreeshankar cleared 8.36m to come second, but set the national record.
Sreeshankar began on Saturday with a jump of 7.93m. But after his second jump (7.55m), he pulled his hamstring and withdrew, finishing second. Muhammed Anees, who also competed in the CWG, came third with a best jump of 7.92m. All three have raised the bar in long jump this season.
“I strained my hamstring on the second jump. The physio said it’s a Grade 2 sprain and will take 3-4 weeks to heal. Hopefully it is not that terrible and some rehab only is needed,” said Sreeshankar.
He too was aiming to achieve the world championship qualifying mark. “Coming into this competition I was feeling really good, and like Jeswin I had plans to jump 8:25m and make the cut for the worlds. Hopefully, next season I can do it in a couple of early competitions.”
Aldrin though can now fully focus on his preparations for the world championships and find more consistency. At Eugene, he managed only a best of 7.78m and failed to qualify for the final.
It took him some time to get over the controversy over his selection trials.
“I was depressed. I took almost a month to get over it. When I had qualified for the worlds last year, I felt my speed had improved, though I was not able to control it. I wanted to improve my approach but I had to appear for trials.
“Even at the world championships I got a good jump but just fouled. I didn’t get CWG. I came back and the main focus was to finish this season on a good note so it would help me start well next year.”
Aldrin then went to the Spitzen Leichtathletik meet, a World Athletics Continental Tour (silver) event, in Lucerne, Switzerland and performed better, finishing fourth with a jump of 8.12m.
“I focused on (rectifying) my mistakes—on controlling my speed and good take off. I enjoyed competing with Olympic champions and world champions. It really helped to get my confidence back by not fouling. So, in the last two meets of the season, I had 8-plus jumps.”
He has also learnt not to put himself under too much of strain and live in the moment. On the Switzerland trip, he went to the mountains with the rest of the members.
“This time having some fun along with good training—I am learning to adapt in competitions abroad. Earlier, I was not used to that crowd and it was really difficult to focus during competition. Now, I was able to think better. All that has helped.
“My training went well before the National Games, so I was confident here. I felt the first jump was not that good, I was not warmed up properly. Then I got into a rhythm. After the fourth jump, my coach asked me to take rest and go all out in the sixth. That turned out to be the best.”