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Hari Shankar raises expectations after his performance in Singapore

Stan Rayan

KOCHI: A few years ago, he was jumping over bamboo bars for fun. Today, the teenager from West Bengal's Jalpaiguri District, is India's biggest find after Anju George.

When high jumper Hari Shankar Roy sailed over 2.25 metres at the Asian All Stars Meet in Singapore last September, not many took notice. Coming a few days after the Athens Olympics and with not many big names around, the Asian long jump queen Anju was easily the star of the show in Singapore.

In India, high jumping made history that day. For, not only did Hari Shankar break the men's National record by a huge seven centimetres, it also made him the world's fifth best jumper in the IAAF junior performance list last year. He was just two centimetres below China's Yang Liu, the world topper.

Previous season

The 18-year-old Bengal boy also found his way into the world men's top-60 in 2004. The previous season Hari Shankar had figured among the top-15 in the World Youth performance list.

"It was surely a world-class jump," said Olympian Suresh Babu, a former Asian long jump champion and the country's best high jumper in the seventies.

There were a few other surprises too. Hari Shankar's best was better than the gold-winning effort (2.23m) of Korea's Lee Jin-Taek at the last Asian Games in Busan in 2002. And Canada's Michael Mason won the World junior gold with a much lower jump (2.21m) last year in Italy.

Spectacular, for India has not won a men's high jump gold at the Asian Games for nearly four decades now. Haryana's Bhim Singh, the 1966 Bangkok Asian Games champion with an effort of 2.05m, was the last. Bhim was also the country's last medallist at the continental event, with a bronze at the 1970 Asiad.

Fosbury flop

Despite setting a National record (2.09m), Bhim failed to qualify for the finals at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, but for a couple of days he rubbed shoulders with history. American Fosbury introduced a new style in the Mexico Games, which soon became popular as the fosbury flop. High jump was never the same again.

"Hari Shankar is very, very promising. He has jumped 40 centimetres more than his height which is stunning. And since Benedict Starly is giving him a close fight in the National Circuit, it should take the sport to new heights," said Southern Railway's Nalluswamy Annavi, who broke Bhim's record of 2.09m in 1984 and raised the bar to 2.16m during his decade-long dominance before handing over the baton to Chander Pal Ratni in 1993.

Hari Shankar and Tamil Nadu's Benedict Starly, both Railway stars, jointly broke the National mark after floating over 2.18m at the Inter-State Nationals in Chennai last July, but now the Bengal wonder is the sole owner. He also won gold at the Commonwealth Youth Games last December in Australia.

Good approach

"Hari Shankar's approach run is very good. He is able to fully convert the speed of his run-up into his jumps and that's his forte. However, he needs to be more consistent," said Olympian Suresh Babu, the Junior National coach who had guided the youngster at the National camps. And at 5'9'', Hari Shankar is not very tall but he is very explosive.

Unfortunately, a minor back problem has forced Hari Shankar to stay away from many meets this season. Trouble began nearly two months ago, before the National Circuit meets.

"His lower-back muscles are weak and need to be strengthened. So he has taken a break and gone back to his native place to work on them," said Suresh Babu.

India has not seen a high jumper of Hari Shankar's quality in a long, long time and he deserves the best of everything.

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