A month back, he could only manage a jump of 7.92 metres at the Asian athletics championships, which was good enough for silver.

On Monday, K. Prem Kumar broke the 8m barrier with a new National-record jump of 8.09m, winning gold at the Railways athletics championships.

“If this jump had come then, I would be leaving for the World Championships tonight,” he said with a grin after the event.

The 20-year old from Chennai, already being spoken of as the next best thing in Indian long jump, is not disappointed. “In fact, I jumped 8.12 in a qualifying event in the US two weeks back but because it was wind-aided, it didn’t count. But I knew then that I could do it. I cannot explain the feeling. When I jumped today, I knew I had made it. I was only praying it not to be a foul,” he said.

The previous record was with Amritpal Singh, set way back in 2004. The meet record dates back even further — 7.79 by Sanjay Kumar Rai in 1998. Prem broke that record with only his third jump of 7.95m.

Saraswathi, who works with Southern Railways in Coimbatore, broke the 13-year old meet record, hurling the javelin to a distance of 52.18m.

“Till the end, I was second, with all my throws ending between 44 and 45m. Mukesh Kumari (who finished second with a throw of 47.02m) was leading at that point. But a small correction in my technique helped me overhaul the mark,” she said. Earlier, a wet, delayed start to the three-day event gave no indications of things to come. The performances in the first half of the day on Day One were just average. V.S. Surekha remained unchallenged as the pole vault queen of the country, winning with a jump of 3.90m.

The first events of the day were the preliminary rounds of the men’s and women’s 400m and 1500m respectively, held in pouring rain, and most runners appeared content simply crossing the finish line among the top three to qualify for the finals.

Action started more than an hour behind schedule with the men’s discus throw the first to be completed. Meet record holder Vikas Poonia retained gold but his throw of 49.86 metres was far below his own personal best and the meet record of 55.82m — set in the last edition.

Jhuma Khatun upset meet record holder O.P. Jaisha to win gold in the 1500m with a time of four minutes, 25.51 seconds while in the 400m women, Chavi Sherawat won gold. However, Sini Jose, appearing in her first competitive outing since completing a two-year ban for doping, was rusty and a pale shadow of herself.

The results: Men: 400m: 1. Bibin Mathew 47.59; 2. Neeraj Panwar 48.41; 3. Vishamber Kolekar 48.67; 1500m: 1. Sajeesh Joseph 4:01.13; 2. H. Lathiyan 4:01.41; 3. Vipul Rana 4:02.17.

Long jump: 1. K Prem Kumar 8.09 (NR, old 8.08); 2. Nikhil Chittrasu 7.71; 3. Rositto Sax (7.60); Dicus: 1. Vikas Poonia 49.86; 2. Sunil Kumar 48.86; 3. Karan Singh 48.15.

Women: 400m: 1. Chavi Sherwat 55.71; 2. Priyanka Mondal 55.84; 3. Sarita 56.42; 1500m: 1. Jhuma Khatun 4:25.51; 2. O. P. Jaisha 4:26.30; 3. Sushma Devi 4:34.23; Pole vault: 1. V. S. Surekha 3.90; 2. Dija K. C. 3.50; 3. Anusha K. P. 3.50; Javelin throw: 1. Saraswathi 52.18; 2. Mukesh Kumari 47.02; 3. N. M. Hemlatha 40.28.

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