The Indian athletics season is off to a good start with multiple athletes across events breaking the Asian and Commonwealth Games Qualification barriers very early on in the season.
A month since the domestic athletics season kicked off with the first-ever India Open Throws and Indian Open Jumps competition, the one breed of athletes which has left fans impressed with some mouth-watering performances are the long-jumpers.
It all started with a fiery battle between two jumpers from Kerala – Murali Sreeshankar and Muhammed Anees Yahiya, in their own backyard at Trivandrum. While the former – a 2020 Tokyo Olympian, started with an effort of 8.14m in his very first attempt of the season, the latter eclipsed it with his own personal best of 8.15m to establish himself as the strongest contender for having the yellow metal around his neck.
Just when it looked as if Yahiya would be the first-ever Open Jumps Champion, Sreeshankar produced his season-best effort of 8.17m with his final jump to seal the deal.
The long jumpers continued this momentum to the Indian Grand Prix 1 (IGP-1) where Jeswin Aldrin broke the 8m barrier with a massive jump of 8.20m – just 0.06m away from the national record. What is to be noted is the fact that Aldrin jumped over 8m thrice in the event and his worst jump of 7.78m would have still earned him gold.
While Yahiya’s show dipped to 7.70m in IGP to settle for the silver medal, Sreeshankar did not start the event.
Not only in the men’s section, but the performance in the women’s long jump has also been stunning with yet another Kerala athlete – Ancy Sojan, walking away with the gold medals on both occasions. While the 21-year-old jumped her personal best of 6.51m in the Open Jumps, she improved it to 6.55m in the IGP-1.
Impressed by the display of long jumpers is the Indian legend in the sport, Anju Bobby George.
“We have had good long jumpers in the past as well, but I do not think we ever had a bunch of good athletes emerging together. It is a very good sign and hopefully, this will push each one of them to be on their toes, which is ultimately a very good sign for Indian athletics,” says Anju Bobby George to The Bridge.
The 44-year-old is also quick to point out that it is not only in the long jump but there have been some great improvements in triple jump too.
“I think overall there has been a stark improvement in horizontal jumps in the recent years. We have some very promising athletes in the triple jump as well. With the Asian, Commonwealth Games, and World Championships around the corner, it is exciting to think that we might be in with a chance,” she states.
Anoop Joseph – a Sports Authority of India (SAI) contracted horizontal jumps coach, too, echoes the same sentiment.
“Anees has been around for a long time now, while Sreeshankar has the experience of competing in an Olympics. Overall the depth in the long jump looks good and it is all about maintaining consistency. If our top three jumpers – Anees, Sreeshankar and Jeswin, can get into a better shape then we can definitely expect at least one medal in Asian Games,” he says.
Anoop, who also coaches the young Ancy Sojan, believes a lot of the improvement in recent times is down to an increase in the fitness levels of athletes.
“I think the increase in fitness has played a major role in this improvement we are seeing. There is a lot more focus on staying fit nowadays and we are reaping rewards for it. Moreover, quite a few former athletes involved in grassroots, I feel, we are producing more athletes who are technically stronger than those of past generations,” Joseph stresses.
Besides, long jump and athletics being a sport classified as ‘high-priority’ by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports under the TOPS Scheme. This coupled with long term planning seems to be playing a major role in the growth of the sport.
“Long Jump comes under the high priority sports category. This means that there has been a collective effort from SAI, Athletics Federation of India (AFI) over the past few years. We are also slowly moving into a long time planning as a sporting nation and this has played a huge role,” Anju Bobby George explains.
The 2003 World Championships bronze medallist also cautions that one should not be carried away by the level of jumps this early in the season.
“We have had great jumps early in the season, but maintaining or improving this is not going to be easy. With three major international events around the corner, they should be peaking at the right time. By the time an Asian Games or World Championships arrive our athletes should be aiming to improve by nearly 40cm more than what they are doing today,” she says.