Triple jumper Eldhose Paul’s loyal fan is his octogenarian grandmother. Saramma, in her late 80s, is the one who brought up Eldhose after his mother passed away when he was four years old. Saramma is Eldhose’s life and she dotes on him like only a mother can. The two of them talk every day no matter how busy Eldhose is. He could be at the World Championships, the Commonwealth Games or at the national camp in India. But the communication lines between the grandmother and the grandson have never snapped.
Saramma does not measure Eldhose’s happiness in terms of medals. Did he eat well, did he sleep well are almost always her first questions. Eldhose’s gold medal at the Commonwealth Games would not have been possible without the love and care of his grandmother who lives in Ernakulam, Kerala.
“She did everything that a mother does for a child all these years. We are very close and have a strong bond. She brought me up and taught me all values in life. It goes without saying that without her I would not be who I am today,” Eldhose said days ahead of the triple jump final.
After being in fourth spot after the second round, Eldhose produced 17.03 metres to move into the lead in the men’s triple jump final. The leap won’t count as a personal best for Eldhose because there was a three-metre plus wind reading but the gold was his.
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He started off with just 14.92 metres in Round 1, improved to 16.30m before producing the winning jump in the third round. His training mate at the Sports Authority of India’s centre in Bangalore, Abdulla Aboobacker gave him a run for his money and moved into second place with 17.02 metres.
What makes Eldhose special is his mental fortitude and ability to grasp instructions quickly and think on his feet and not lose hope if he does not start off with a good jump. A similar scenario played out on Sunday in the final.
“Mental stability is a big strength. If he makes a mistake, he does not get nervous during competition. He can quickly correct himself and make a comeback,” his coach M Harikrishnan said.
HariKrishan coaches Aboobacker too. Eldhose, 25, has really bloomed only over the past year. Not having a specialised coach in his early days and being relatively short for a triple jumper were early hurdles. He wasn’t an automatic pick after he appeared for selection trials at a college famous for producing athletes in Kerala.
Eldhose’s early steps in what is called the hop, step and jump event was literally an uphill task. Once he gained admission to the college, Eldhose wasn’t even the first choice from his college when the team was picked for the university competition. In a state where schools which specialise in sports produce the best of talent, the competition was fierce.
“In my first year in college, I had to participate in pole vault and the cross country at the university level. MA College in Kothamangalam (renowned for athletics) had two jumpers who were better than me. So I decided it would be best that I focus on other events where it was easier to get an entry. In the second year, at the college trials I came first in the triple jump and then first in the university,” Eldhose said.
Eldhose’s father used to work in a toddy shop but has now retired. Athletics helped him uplift his family. A job in the navy was god-send and soon Eldhose started to fulfil his potential as a jumper. Eldhose has made rapid strides in the triple jump over the past year. From a best jump of 16.58 metres in mid 2021 to 16.99 metres at the Federation Cup earlier this year. Reaching the final of the World Championships where he finished ninth with 16.79 metres was a high point. Eldhose’s progress is impressive because his coach says he isn’t tall enough to be a triple jumper. He makes up with explosive strength and speed on the runway.
An improved technique has also helped. His coach Harikrishnan talks about how height is important in the triple jump. Eldhose is around 170 centimetres, but the ideal starting height of a triple jumper is widely accepted as 180 cm.
“When Eldhose joined the camp, I wanted to prepare him for the long jump. In triple jump and high jump you need height. It is mandatory. He is about 170 centimetres. There are three phases in the triple jump. So if an athlete’s leg length is less, the hop distance will be less and extension of the leg on landing won’t be as much as someone who is taller. On an average the difference can be 6.20 metres to 5.80 metres in the hop because of lesser height. But Eldhose has exceptional explosive power and speed. God does not give one person everything ,” Harikrishnan said.
Another tweak that has worked wonders for Eldhose is a change brought about in his running style. “His upper body was behind the centre of gravity. He didn’t use a high knee while running. I brought his upper body forward. Once that was done his ‘hop drive’ improved. The distance of his jumps also improved. His technique still needs work but he is getting there,” Harikrishnan said.
Eldhose’s main takeaway after reaching the World Championships final was belief that Indian athletes can win medals even when up against the best. “We have a mentality that we cannot win medals on the world stage. But that is not true. I think we can. We just need the belief and the right guidance and exposure.”
On Sunday he proved he has the belief and the talent.