Praveen Chitravel sets meet record, gets ready for bigger leaps

It was amply provided by the Tamil Nadu athlete, whose 17.18m broke the meet record. The jump also enabled him to qualify for the World Athletics Championships in Eugene next month.

Published: 15th June 2022 12:52 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th June 2022 12:52 AM   |  A+A-

Praveen Chitravel. (Photo | Ashwin Prasath/EPS)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: When they introduced the triple jump finalists on the final day of the national inter-state athletics championships on Tuesday, it was hard to miss Praveen Chitravel. He had a white band covering his entire forehead. He would later say it was to add "gethu (swag)" to his look.

One could also say that he added swag, that sprinkling of magic to an event that had promised a lot when the start-lists were announced. All four of Eldhose Paul (season's best of 16.99m), Abdulla Aboobacker (17.19m) Praveen (16.84m) and Karthik Unnikrishnan (17.10m) had breached the 16.80m territory. With competition for places at an all-time high -- as the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) would not be able to send four athletes in one event -- the event promised fireworks.

It was amply provided by the Tamil Nadu athlete, whose 17.18m broke the meet record. The jump also enabled him to qualify for the World Athletics Championships in Eugene next month. He also became the fourth Indian in history to breach the 17.15m mark.

Remarkable considering he hadn't trained all that much over the last two weeks thanks to a heel injury. "During training too, we didn't jump too much," he said. "Even spikes training was sparingly inducted. I directly came and competed. It's all about smart work."

Smart work is something that the young jumper has been doing ever since he broke out when he won bronze at the Youth Olympics in 2018. Since then, he's set a string of personal bests. But -- there's always a but as young athletes face teething problems in the growing up process -- the critics have not left him alone. He has won myriad medals at the junior level but the returns at the senior level has been a trickle. "The only thing I wish to tell my critics is 'thank you very much'," he said, tongue very much in cheek.

But the athlete, who hails from Thanjavur, doesn't lose sleep over it. "I did compete but I was not getting the desired results. I competed in the Open nationals and didn't even finish third. But this is my field and life goes on. There were a lot of ups and downs and gains and losses. I am not special, no? All part of the process."

Even though he's currently coached by Yoandri Betanzos (a two-time silver medallist at the Worlds in triple jump), he was quick to thank all the coaches who have played a big role in his developmental process including his science teacher, Mathiazhagan. "He recognised my talent and used to put in his money to take me to district meets and other competitions. So I owe him a lot. He could have just taught me science and gone ahead with his life. But he didn't."

The Cuban, who joined his team less than a year ago (he was being trained by Anthony Yaich before that), has paid special focus on the 21-year-old's explosive abilities. "Both (Betanzos and Yaich) are very similar," the athlete who is based at the Inspire Institute in Vijayanagar, said. "Yaich focuses on speed and power but Betanzos focuses on explosive abilities and jumps, specifically. He works on technique consistently."

Whenever he loses shape in training sessions, Betanzos, like every coach, scolds him. But because of the language barrier, it may not register with him. To help the Cuban, he has taught him a few bad words in Tamil. "Only that works when he needs to pull me up for my mistakes. Nothing else seems to work. So he asked me to teach him a few words in my language that will strike well. He's very silent and a very happy person. He keeps encouraging me to do better each time," Praveen said.

He did that on Tuesday. And following the live stream from home was a proud but emotional mother, Prema. "I spoke to my mother. She watched the jump live and was crying on the phone."

Eugene and Birmingham beckons. Two very tough challenges but he cites a Kamal Hassan phrase from Vikram. "Pathukalam (we will see about it)," when asked how he goes through all these hurdles.


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