There’s nothing as joyful as watching a long-cherished dream come true, and few would know that better than Madhya Pradesh long jumper Ankit Sharma.
The 23-year-old qualified for the Rio Olympics by making an 8.19-metre leap, bettering his own national record in the process, at the G Kosanov Memorial Meet in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Sunday. He has become the first athlete from Madhya Pradesh to qualify for the international sporting event.
The road to success was slow and gruelling. Ankit, however, never let the occasional failure come in the way of him and his Olympic dream. “I may not win immediately, but I will definitely win,” he would tell his friends.
Ankit was born in the family of Harnath Singh, a teacher hailing from Morena. Raised on the stories of Paan Singh Tomar, another great athlete hailing from the same district, Ankit always believed he was destined to enter the Olympics. However, long jump was not always his first choice of sport.
At eight, Ankit initially wanted to throw the javelin – just like his brother Pravesh. After each successful attempt, he would jump up with joy – something that attracted the attention of his instructors. They asked him to try his hand at long jump instead.
In 2013, Ankit received his first significant award of recognition – a state medal. In the years that followed, he came by both successes and failures. Despite sinking into depression after failing to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, he held on to his dream. Last year, he faced another setback when the AFI dropped him from the Indian squad for the Asian Athletics Championship on a technicality. They charged him with leaving the camp at NIS Patiala, organised by the AFI, and joining the Sports Authority of India’s camp in Thiruvananthapuram.
And yet, Ankit refused to accept failure. In 2015, he became the national champion by jumping 8.04 metres. AFI joint secretary Mumtaz Khan said he had been watching Ankit’s progress from the very beginning. “It took a long time for Ankit to achieve his aim, but I never saw him lacking in confidence. Instead of letting failures depress him, this youngster always believed in bettering himself. He has made us very proud.”