It’s already been a big year for high jumper Tejaswin Shankar, and it would only get better and better. He is the current national record-holder and donned the blue singlet in Gold Coast at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
An aspirational ideal rooted in a relentless work ethic, chasing the higher heights with a commitment to always improving. For him, the phrase isn’t just a hashtag or a tagline, but a powerful declaration.
Life could have been very different for the six-foot-four-inch Shankar. As a child, Shankar was an all-rounder. There was Cricket, Roller skating, swimming, Tennis, Chess, and the list goes on. But of course, there was his one true love of athletics.
Tejaswin Shankar first discovered his invaluable talent when it came to high jump in his school days and it was just started as fun training which ultimately ended up being his sport now –with big dreams and high hopes. No massive eureka moment. No huge story.
Here are a few numbers to keep in mind:
6-foot-4 inch: his height.
2.29 m: seasons best, also National Record
2.26 m, 2.28 m, and 2.29: National Records Broken
19 years: his age
Now, Shankar competing for Kansas State University and has his sights set on his studies and of course the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, 2020.
He recently bettered his own National High Jump Record at the highly competitive NCAA’s Texas Tech Corky/Crofoot Shootout (with a winning mark of 2.29 meters/7’06 ft in), while also setting a meet record of sixth-best jump in K-State history.
Fisto has been closely following his higher heights journey for a while and was able to facilitate the following interview. Enjoy!
What made you chose the high jump and how you developed a passion for the sport?
A new physical education teacher, Sunil Kumar was appointed in our school. I started training with him to improve my physicality and trained for athletics to improve my coordination and general athletic ability which I thought would, in turn, help me improve my fitness. But I ended up jumping 1.70m in my first ever try using the scissor kick technique and that’s when my coach realized that I can actually jump and become a decent high jumper.
How has your family played a role in your athletic career?
Initially, when I started, my father was very resilient of me doing athletics and not focusing on cricket. Even I didn’t know how to respond or react because cricket was my first love but now I also enjoyed training for athletics. Before this, I had trained for roller skating, swimming, tennis, chess, and what not, then I started cricket, did well and now I wanted to do athletics.
My dad was losing his cool because of my indecisive nature but ultimately it was my mother who always supported what I did and there have been instances when she helped me sneak out of the house early in the morning before my father woke up, so I don’t get shouted at.
What keeps you busy when you’re not soaring over high bars and winning competitions?
I love listening to music and explore different genres. I have been an avid fan of EDM, R&B, 90’s hip-hop and now I’m more inclined to explore rock/heavy metal. I like reading books but mostly during my spare time I like to either sleep or just sit on my couch and watch movies/Netflix.
What do you like about high jump and what has kept you in it over the years?
I think more than loving high jump, I love winning. I have always been competitive since childhood. I just love to win. That’s another reason I love high jump because I am 100% responsible for what I did on a given day.
If I worked hard for a victory then it’s mine and I don’t have to share it with anyone unlike in a team sport. And if I don’t do well then, I am the only one to blame and I don’t have to share the blame with anyone, neither can I blame anyone. This has really taught me to take responsibility. That probably what motivates me to improve myself each day.
How would you describe your work ethic in preparation for a meet?
When it comes to training I will do whatever it takes to get to where I want. But training alone is not sufficient; I know one of my drawbacks is discipline. I can’t control my desire to eat. I just have to put anything and everything that’s on the table in my mouth. I’m a big fan of food and especially desserts and sweets. I can eat and then give my best effort to burn it off but if someone asks me not to eat it in the first place so I don’t have to do the extra work, that just doesn’t make sense to me. I’m just wired that way.
If you weren’t a high jumper, what other sport would you be playing?
I don’t have any doubt when I say I would’ve been a fast bowler if I wasn’t high jumping.
How does it feel like competing for the Kansas State University and how did you get through?
It’s a great feeling competing for Kansas state university and training under one of the best high jump coaches in the world. I have always believed that after coming here there’s nothing I can complain about and this is the real test of my perseverance and work ethic. I have the best facility, the best coach, best training partners and the best environment. So, I really have to step my game up and work harder.
I never knew about college sports in the US, let alone how competitive it is. After I broke the national record for the first time in 2016, the then javelin coach. Gary Calvert told me that I should go to the US and compete at the NCAA level which is highly competitive and would develop me as an athlete and I would also not have to compromise on my education. This sounded very good to me and I asked him to help me out. That’s when he emailed my coach at Kansas State, Cliff Rovelto and that’s how I got a scholarship to be a part of the K-state track team.
Tell us something about your coach Cliff Rovelto and how does it feel to work with him?
It feels like a blessing to be able to work with the best coach/mentor in your field and practically free of cost. He is a man of few words and that’s what sets him apart from most others. The freedom I get in a competition to pick the heights want to jump, or what I want to do is actually an example of the faith he places on his athletes. And as an athlete, it’s really reinforcing to see your coach backing your decision and being open to your feedback. At this level, where it’s all mental, that’s exactly what you want.
Do you think the new generation of Indian athletes is under greater psychological pressure than past ones to perform well at the International stages?
I definitely think there’s more pressure but at the same time, I think even the probability of the new generation performing well at the international level has gone up drastically.
The facilities have gotten better, coaches are getting educated, athletes are being more and more aware of what’s right and what’s wrong, and people are more interested because of social media and online platforms like Fisto Sports itself. Not to forget YouTube, where everyone has access to anything and everything, be it training methods, nutrition, sleep, you name it.
Was your 2.29 leap a “perfect jump”?
Honestly, my 2.29 jump which came just 10 days after I jumped 2.24 in Commonwealth Games was more so a jump which I muscled out because I had a fire in me as I couldn’t jump very high at the games. Technically it was nowhere near my best, I wasn’t in best shape in that competition and there were a lot of errors. Mentally I wasn’t even sure if I really wanted to compete. But at the same time, I really wanted that jump. Because I muscled it and gave everything I had to make the bar, I got injured after that jump and suffered a neck strain and small ankle niggles.
It was a sweet bitter feeling to jump 2.29. It was sweet because I jumped 2.29 but bitter at the same time because I ended up injuring myself. I think one of my best jumps came at the Federation Cup this year which served as the selection trials for CWG. I jumped 2.28m that day to break the outdoor national record and that was possibly the most effortless jump I have jumped in my life up to this point, under pressure.
You have been a very consistent high jumper leaping over 2.20 m – you bettered 2.24m and 2.26m and 2.28m and 2.29m all in the space of one year. Your competitor Brandon Starc’s career best is 2.32m and Trey Culver’s 2.33m and the World Junior Championship standard is 2.37 m and all looks with the reach for you though. What you think about that and what you must improve in order to achieve the feat?
This year definitely has been a turnaround year for me, not because I jumped high but because I jumped high on most occasions. I can’t complain about it. As far as Starc or Trey is concerned I’m really happy that this year has been a great year for them. It’s really exciting to jump against these stalwarts of the sport. But my immediate focus is to get more consistent which will, in turn, make me jump higher heights and at the same time enjoy the process and my years in college.
And what areas do you feel that you need improvement in?
I think I need to be stronger because I end up getting injured often, it could be because staying in the air for flight times over a second is very demanding on your body and especially the tendons. I need to work more on elastic movements and injury prevention.
Who is your toughest and favourite opponent?
The competitions where I have to fight for a win are actually the competitions I enjoy the most. I think this year Siddharth Yadav bhai has been one of my favourite competitors because he stepped up to the occasion at the Federation Cup and gave me a run for my money. I felt very bad when I got to know that in spite of qualifying for CWG he couldn’t get accreditation due to logistical errors.
What would it mean to you to participate in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
That would definitely be a dream come true and I would definitely want to be in a position by then were I could actually medal.
Mind Power or Physical Power?
I always thought it was physical but over time I realized that at the elite level it’s all mental and anyone who can keep his nerves to himself is the one who emerges victorious in the end.
What do you do besides sports?
I am a student-athlete in a university so education is the top priority. That takes up most of my time.
Share with us 3 items in your training bag.
Phone, Chocolate chip cookies and Hanuman Chalisa.
What’s next for you?
There’s always something that’s coming up one after the other. My ultimate goal is to make sure I do what I’m supposed to on that day and can compete for at least 15-20 years and have a long and consistent career
Embarrassing Moment: When I showed up to practice one morning with a Scooby-Doo collar around my neck I never realized, I partied too hard the night before, which was Halloween. And I had dressed up as Scooby. The athletic trainer asked me what was around my neck, I looked down to realize my foolishness and everyone had a hearty laugh. That was very embarrassing.
Do you have a tattoo? I have two tattoos on either of my biceps which says “The Beast Never Stops” when I strike a double font bicep pose. This tattoo means a lot to me as it reminds me of how I overcame my back injury which troubled me for over 7 months.
Favourite sports team and idol: Undoubtedly, Chennai Super Kings. I have been a CSK fan since 2008. And anyone who loves CSK is automatically a THALA fan (MS Dhoni)
One thing people don’t know about you: I would like to keep that to myself.
To go person: My mother
Marvel or DC: Marvel movies/DC comics
Favourite holiday destination: Kashmir
What’s on your playlist? D Imman hits, Harris Jayaraj hits, Ilaiyaraaja hits, Sidhu Moose Wala, AC/DC, Imagine Dragons, Drake, and Twenty Øne PilØts.
Keep your eyes peeled for Shankar’s great feats as he continues his relentless work ethic and commitment to always getting better. To find out more about his athletic career stay connected to his Twitter page for updates.