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Big leap, but no sponsors yet

It is one of the ironies of Indian sport that Maheswary is unsure of his future despite becoming the first Indian to cross the 17-metre barrier, writes B Shrikant.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2008 11:53 IST
B Shrikant

Breaking a record gets a sportsperson instant fame. In case of a sport like cricket, sponsors and agents make a beeline, offering lucrative deals. In the case of triple-jumper Renjith Maheswary, breaking a 36-year-old record doesn’t even get him enough to fund his own training abroad.

It is one of the ironies of Indian sport that Maheswary is unsure of his future despite becoming the first Indian to cross the 17-metre barrier. Maheswary made the historic leap at the second leg of the Asian Grand Prix series in Guwahati last month, breaking the national record of 16.79m of Mohinder Singh Gill, the oldest record at the national level that was set on May 8, 1971. In Guwahati, the 22-year-old Maheswary, who finished fourth in the Doha Asian Games last year, leapt 17.04m to not only make athletics aficionados sit up and take notice of his talent but also jump to 18th in the world rankings. He is currently ranked 24th in the world. It is a big achievement, as Indian jumpers have not even made it to the top-50 till last year.

But Maheswary is not sure whether he would be able to travel abroad and train under a top foreign coach. The reason: lack of finances, the perennial problem plaguing Indian sportspersons. He comes from a lower middle class family in Kottayam, Kerala — his father, having worked for years as a signboard painter, has recently bought a grocery shop — and arranging funds on his own is next to impossible for him. His father, after all, has to support a family of five including his eldest son, Renjith.

"Whatever I earn from my job with Western Railway goes into my training and travel,” Renjith said over phone from the national camp in Patiala.

"I joined Western Railway in 2005 but have been at the national camp or participating in various meets since then. Sometimes I have to ask my parents for money for buying shoes or supplements, which is a bit embarrassing because at this age I should be supporting my father instead of taking money from him.”

Asked about his plans for training under a foreign coach abroad, Maheswary said he had no clue how to arrange the funds. "The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) is trying to rope in some sponsor. They are also trying to get the government to send me abroad for training, but I am not sure when their efforts will fructify,” said Maheswary.

The AFI has some plans of arranging sponsorship for Maheswary. “We have approached some companies and organisations like the Airports Authority of India that support sportspersons,” said Rahul Pawar, competition coordinator, AFI. “Renjith has potential. We are trying to get him work in ads — his action profile can be used to depict growth and big leaps. We have put up some proposals and are trying to rope in some sponsors for him.”

While the struggle goes on, the lanky triple jumper is sure of one thing: if he gets good training from a reputed foreign coach in Europe or the United States for a couple of months, he can improve further. Maheswary’s best performance is way below the world mark of 18.29 set by Englishman Jonathan Edwards in 1995 or for that matter the Asian record of 17.35 metres of Oleg Sakirkin of Kazakhstan set in 1994. But the fact that he has crossed the psychological barrier of 17 metres means that he has the potential to challenge the best in the business.

At this moment, Maheswary is concentrating on doing well in the Asian Championship at Amman (Jordan) from July 25-29 and the World Athletics Championships in Osaka, Japan, in August. “I am practicing for around 4-5 hours daily and I am confident that I would not only be able to cross the 17m mark again but improve my national record,” he said.

By doing so, Maheswary hopes to attract sponsorship of about Rs 15-20 lakhs that he would need for foreign training.