On the second day of the 2022 Federation Cup in Kozhikode, Jeswin Aldrin won a compelling long jump duel with Murali Sreeshankar. Both athletes went beyond Sreeshankar’s national record mark of 8.26m to register the farthest two jumps in the event by Indians.
Aldrin, who won the gold medal, produced the best jump of 8.37m but it did not count as a national record because of an illegal tailwind of 4.1 m/s. Sreeshankar produced 8.36m to come second, which became the new Indian record and at that point was a new World lead too.
In fact, both jumpers produced nine 8+ meter jumps and more than the records, the medals or even the glory, it is these nine jumps that bode well for the long jump in India. Too often in the recent past, we have seen one athlete dominate a particular event in India but then not being able to push to a higher level in international competitions.
Talent can be one of the reasons for that, expertise maybe another but perhaps the most telling factor can be a rivalry. For an athlete, a good rivalry can be a rare boon. It pushes them to excel; it makes sure they don’t get complacent and it makes sure they get better. So only the lucky few find a rival.
Ahead of the event, Aldrin was hoping that Sreeshankar would compete. Without the latter, there isn’t much competition and the event simply isn’t as much fun either.
The 20-year-old Aldrin, who is from Tamil Nadu, doesn’t shy away from the competition because he knows that Sreeshankar’s consistency will bring out the best in him too.
“It pushes you,” said Aldrin in a telephonic conversation with Scroll.in. “If a jumper is jumping more than you, you definitely want to do even better. You want to be the best in whatever you do. So it is like an extra push.”
Aldrin added: “Even I wanted Sreeshankar to compete in the Grand Prix so that it would help me also to jump a little further but he was not there. I was happy when he came… I was watching some videos of the famous Carl Lewis vs Mike Powell battle before the event… I knew that with him there, it will be a big fight between us and we will obviously improve the old national record. And it really happened. Because of the wind, the record didn’t stand but I won the gold medal. Hopefully, this is just the beginning and we have many more competitions like this.”
Aldrin believes that he is a calm person but put him in a battle and he won’t back down.
“I am a calm person who doesn’t like to lose,” said Aldrin. “If I lose in one competition, then my attitude is that I have to beat him the next time we face off. That is the type of person I am. I used to see Sreeshankar from a young age - U14s, U16s, U18s and from my childhood, I wanted to be the best long jumper, to be the national record holder and one of the best in the world.”
The big change
But turn the clock back to 2020 and Aldrin wasn’t exactly getting great distances on his jumps. In fact, if one looked at just the numbers then one might have thought he was in a downward spiral of sorts. But the drop was mainly due to a change in technique.
“For example, my jumping style earlier would see me do just one cycle in the air and then land,” Aldrin said. “But now with double cycling, there is a good positive change. But when I made the change initially, my performance dropped to 7.29 whereas I would easily do 7.50 before the change. But it took a while to get things right and then the performance started to improve little by little. My speed and strength have increased too. I need to carry my speed into the jump because if I am not fast enough, I will just go high and drop down past. So speed is a very important component for me.”
|2018||7.32||Ranchi (IND)||03 NOV 2018|
|2019||7.44||Mangalagiri (IND)||05 NOV 2019|
|2020||7.29||Green Point Stadium, Cape Town (RSA)||25 JAN 2020|
|2021||7.97||Thenhipalam (IND)||26 FEB 2021|
|2022||8.20||Thiruvanthapuram (IND)||13 MAR 2022|
Aldrin’s fighting spirit is helping too. He doesn’t like to lose and because Sreeshankar is doing well, the realisation that he needs to keep improving is there too. It is driving him forward.
“I am trying not to repeat the same mistakes again and again,” said Aldrin. “If I falter in one competition, then in the next one I try hard to not make the same mistake. Training is going very well and I have changed my technique as well. So it is all coming together.”
The big moment
Even without any professional training, Aldrin was jumping 7.51m. So he definitely had the talent but there is so much more that goes into finding success at the highest level.
One step, Aldrin believes, in the right direction was getting picked up by JSW. He suddenly had access to a foreign coach, exposure trips, camps and even more competitions.
But the secret of the recent success lies in the disappointment of the previous season.
“What has really changed is that in the U23 championships last season, I fouled two 8m jumps and I was really disappointed that I couldn’t even touch 8m in competition for the entire season,” said Aldrin. “So when I came back to the Inspire Institute of Sport, I was so focussed… I wanted to be a jumper who can consistently jump 8m. So I changed everything from how I slept to what I ate. More dedicated than I was in the season before. More willing to make sacrifices. Before I would sometimes skip meals when I wasn’t hungry but nowadays I go and eat because I realise that skipping a meal won’t work for me in the long run.”
And the long run is what Aldrin has become all about. He trains under two-time World championship triple jump silver medallist Yoandris Francis Betanzos of Cuba at the JSW’s Inspire Institute of Sport and the workout has focussed mostly on building him up.
“His workouts are mostly based on speed and strength and that is the one thing I lacked,” said Aldrin. “I was injured last season and this season, I have focussed on building up the body and that has helped me a lot.”
Good mind space
For now, Aldrin likes where he is headed. The results are going his way, the improvements are clear and it feels like all effort being put in is working.
“When I see the results, I want to do it again and again and again and get more results,” said Aldrin. “I can’t wait to get to the stadium and train. That itself is a very good feeling because it doesn’t feel like a chore. You can see it is working and that is why I want to compete and test my mettle.”
But then again, Aldrin knows 8.37m isn’t going to win him a medal at a major meet. For that to happen, he needs to aim even higher.
“My next target is 8.50m and for that, I know if I keep improving the way I am, I can get there. My landing is still very poor and if I improve that, the 8.50m jump will come. And I am a little weak in the upper body also and if I do a perfect jump, the 8.50m jump will come.”
Best jumps in the world this season (outdoor)
|1||8.45||+3.6||Jacob FINCHAM-DUKES||12 JAN 1997||GBR||1||Mike A. Myers Stadium, Austin, TX (USA)||26 MAR 2022|
|2||8.37||+4.1||Jeswin Aldrin JOHNSON||24 DEC 2001||IND||1||CH Muhammed Koya Stadium, Thenhipalam (IND)||03 APR 2022|
|3||8.36||+1.5||. SREESHANKAR||27 MAR 1999||IND||2||CH Muhammed Koya Stadium, Thenhipalam (IND)||03 APR 2022|
|4||8.26||+3.3||Christopher MITREVSKI||12 JUL 1996||AUS||1||SOPAC, Sydney (AUS)||02 APR 2022|
|5||8.18||+2.6||Emiliano LASA||25 JAN 1990||URU||1||CNDA, Bragança Paulista (BRA)||29 JAN 2022|