Tamil Nadu's Praveen Chitravel produced the third longest-ever jump by an Indian with a stunning effort of 17.18m to clinch gold in the triple jump and qualify for the World Championships on the concluding day of National Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships in Chennai on Tuesday.
The 21-year-old Chitravel crossed the World Championships qualifying mark of 17.14m with a leap of 17.18m in his second attempt. The World Championships will be held in Eugene, United States from July 15-24.
Abdulla Aboobacker of Kerala, who won the silver on Tuesday with jump of 7.14m, has already qualified for the Worlds.
Chitravel's effort was behind the 17.30m national record of Renjith Maheswary (in 2016) and the 17.19m effort of Aboobacker while winning gold in the Indian Grand Prix 3 in Bhubaneswar last month.
Eldhouse Paul of Kerala, who was third with an effort of 16.81m, also crossed the Commonwealth Games qualifying distance of 16.56m set by Athletics Federation of India.
"I got injured during a competition in Italy and I recovered only two weeks ago. So, I did not train at all and am directly participating in this competition," Chitravel said.
"Two weeks ago, I was able to walk. I am competing here only because of my physios. So, I did not have any expectations. I just prayed to God and jumped."
Aishwarya Babu smashes triple jump national record
"Since you are born, you will have to achieve something," says Aishwarya Babu matter-of-factly.
Living by that maxim, she smashed the triple jump national record with a stunning effort of 14.14m at the National Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships in Chennai on Monday, reflecting her determination to reach the top.
This, after trying her luck in 100m and 200m sprints and overcoming an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, a dreaded word in sporting circles.
The 24-year-old Aishwarya bettered Mayookha Johny's national record of 14.11m set in 2011.
A day earlier, Aishwarya became the second best Indian woman long jumper after the legendary Anju Bobby George, with an effort of 6.73m. Anju Bobby George holds the national long jump record of 6.83m.
She started with 100m and 200m sprints before switching to long jump and triple jump, which is her main event.
"I started at the age of eight and I was initially doing 100m and 200m. But later, switched to jumps. I was interested in sports and my uncle was a decathlete," she said.
Asked why she took up sports, she said, "I need to achieve. Since you are born, you will have to achieve something."
Aishwarya's 14.14m effort in the 'hope, step and jump' event has put her in joint 14th in the season's top list in the world and third among long jumpers from Commonwealth countries.
"I was expecting to break the national record (in triple jump). I had prepared very well for that, with a lot of hard work," said Aishwarya whose husband works at the Governor's office in Bengaluru.
"In September last year, I did 13.55m (while winning gold) in the National Open Championships. I have improved nearly 60cm since then. My target is 14.35m."
Daughter of a government employee father and homemaker mother, Aishwarya's USP is her speed.
She was spotted by 2010 Asian Games heptathlon bronze medallist Pramila Aiyappa, who is currently a state sports officer.
"Pramila spotted her, she (Pramila) is a sports officer and in charge of South West Railways. So she took Aishwarya to a Railways trial. Then she started training her, it was before the COVID-19 pandemic," said BP Aiyappa, the current coach of Aishwarya and husband of Pramila.
"When Aishwarya came to me, she was having ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear and you can imagine an athlete who had ACL tear and now breaking triple jump national record."
Aiyappa said Aishwarya also has an "unbelievable explosiveness", which makes her stand out.
"For her short stature, her speed and explosiveness is unbelievable, world class. I will not be surprised if she touches 7m in long jump."
"All this strength comes from curd rice (laughs). Wherever she goes and sits in a restaurant, she will always order curd rice," added Aiyappa, who is with Aishwarya for two and half years.
Aiyappa said his focus is to build Aishwarya's strength.
"I am focussed on her strength building. I am more of a believer in building strength. The Europeans, Jamaicans and Americans are really strong and it's difficult to compare with them in strength, so I want to build strength. That is my mantra."
Aiyappa said Ashwarya is a bit weak in 'step' part of the triple jump and her performance can be further be improved if she gets better in that.
"You need to be perfect in all the three parts -- hope, step and jump. She is a bit weak in 'step'. We can improve on that."
Even the COVID-19 pandemic did not stop the coach-ward duo from continuing with training. The Kanteerava Stadium, where they were based, was shut down and they had to travel outside Bangalore for training.
"We had struggled a lot, going to Vidyanagar everyday except for Saturday, it is nearly 35km from Bangalore. It was tough. We had to take special passes but the state government, JSW, AFI and SAI had supported us a lot."