TOI met the 23-year-old player from PalakkadKerala after the event in an exclusive interview.
Happy with the silver, or was it a failed gold?
It’s my very first world medal so I’m happy. But I will continue to work hard. Next time I want to win gold. I have an unfulfilled dream. I was also hoping to win a medal at the world championships. If I had given my best, I would have at least won a bronze medal there, but I was not able to perform well at the world championships. I am happy to have been able to win a medal for the country here in Birmingham.
That medal at a world meet was a long time coming, right?
Yes, I was waiting for a medal (in a world meet) for a very long time. I was seventh at Inner World and Outer Worldsixth to Junior World Championshipsfourth at Asian Indoors, sixth at asian games. Every time I finished sixth or seventh, I’m really happy with silver. I had been waiting for a world medal for a very long time, but I kept missing out. It’s a small step towards my big goal in 2024 Paris Olympic Games and I’m working on it.
In the midst of all those disappointing times, when you failed to get a medal, what was going through your mind?
Ups and downs are an integral part of the life of an athlete. It is important for an athlete to face challenges and overcome them. Patience is the key, we have to trust our process. Not everyone wins World Championship or Commonwealth Games medals on the first try. It’s a long process. It takes time. The reigning Olympic champion in the long jump, Miltiadis Tentoglou, told me in Greece that even “I too have finished seventh, sixth and even fourth on several occasions”. Then he went to win gold in Tokyo. It is a step by step process. Athletics is so difficult now, we have to be patient and trust the process, that’s where the coin will come.
By jump five, where you had your best jump (8.08m), you were trailing the leaders for a while. Has it occurred to you that this time again the medal is going to slip out of your hands?
I knew a good jump would take me to the top. My dad told me I could do it. I was in a similar situation during the interstate meeting in Chennai as well. I was trailing, with a better jump under 8m until round four. There, I made 8.23 m with my fifth jump. I knew I could do one big jump and win a medal. That’s what my dad told me before the fourth jump. Don’t forget you made it to the highway. And then I reached 8.08 m in the fifth.
Would you like to describe your winning jump to us?
I was able to use all my competitive experiences on the world stage and on the national circuit for this. This experience helped me channel all my energy and hit the board perfectly. It was like a perfect jump, only 5cm to spare on the take-off board, good planting on the board and I was able to execute the perfect jump. Although it was well below my personal best (8.36m), but it was all it took for a medal.
It was very cold and cold at the Alexander Stadium. How difficult was it for you?
The weather conditions were a little difficult. There was also a problem with the tailwind. After 3 laps it was colder. I had a problem with my pace. In qualifying, I was on a good pace and I did 8.05m even jumping from behind the take-off board. But as the temperature dropped and it started to get windy, I struggled a bit, especially on the first jump. That’s why my first jump was far behind. I was just waiting for the perfect moment to hit the board and execute my technique.
Now that you’ve broken through the medal barrier on the world stage, what can we expect from you?
I have an unfulfilled dream. I was also hoping to win a medal at the world championships. If I had given my best, I would have at least won a bronze medal, but I was not able to perform well at the world championships. My goal now is to win a medal at the world championships in Budapest next year.
Indian athletics is booming; your medal, Tejaswin’s bronze, NeerajMedals for (Chopra) at the Olympics and the Worlds…
Neeraj bhaiya was a real inspiration. He told me when I was in Oregon for the world championships ‘If you win a medal, be happy. But even if you don’t, take it as a learning experience and learn from the mistakes you’ve made. Every event should be a learning experience”. This is a very important lesson that he gave me.