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AFI & Jeswin Aldrin: A Story of avoidable systemic chaos

Published at :July 19, 2022 at 11:11 PM
Modified at :July 21, 2022 at 7:15 PM
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The national record holder missed out on the potential medal at the World Athletics Championships due to the saga.

Jeswin Aldrin had to fight tooth, nail and against the established system to ensure he could participate in the 2022 World Athletics Championships. Meeting the qualification mark, trials and re-trials, the stress of last-minute change in plans and the uncertainty of his participation in the biennial athletics competition - he faced it all before confirmation of his inclusion in India’s Oregon-bound squad came.

Unfortunately, Aldrin’s time in America came to an early end after recording a best jump of 7.79m, which saw him finish 20th overall and fail to qualify for the finals. A lot has happened around the Mudalur-born athlete in the last few weeks, and here’s a timeline of events.

Dropped out, only to be picked again

In the initial list of 22 athletes, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) left out long jumper Aldrin from the World Championships squad. This came as a surprise as he had breached the qualification mark of 8.22m at the Federation Cup in April. Besides, he was only one of 12 athletes, from 32 who compete at the Worlds, to have met the qualification standards for the competition.

However, the AFI said their decision was based on an “ankle twist” and a slump in his form. Speaking to reporters after the list came out, AFI president Adille Sumariwalla said that it was not “an oversight.”

“Jeswin [Aldrin] is not there. There is no oversight. He has met the qualifying standards. Have you seen his last three performances? 7.82, 7.69 and 7.51 so that is what it is. If the performance is consistently going down, the selection committee in its wisdom has thought that he shouldn’t be selected. He did 8.26 metres only once and after that, his performance is consistently going down,” Sumariwalla said, defending AFI’s decision.

The long jumper was then called to NIS Patiala for a trial on July 4 to give him another chance to book his spot on the Oregon-bound flight. Another trial, this time in Thiruvananthapuram, followed on July 8. Expected to hit the 8.10m mark, the 20-year-old could only clear 7.99m and 7.93m.

Despite that, the AFI released a statement saying that they have decided to allow Aldrin to compete in the showpiece event. 

“AFI today decided, in consultation with the members of the Selection Committee, to include long jumper Jeswin Aldrin in the squad for the World Athletics Championships Oregon22, after he jumped close to 8.00m in the trials held at NIS Patiala on Friday,” the statement read.

And so, Aldrin breathed a sigh of relief. Having officially qualified, he then went through two tedious trials and an “emotional rollercoaster” before he rightfully got what was his.

AFI’s ever-changing stance

With a jump of 8.37m, Aldrin won gold at the Federation Cup in April. This is the best jump ever recorded by an Indian athlete, albeit it was achieved with a tail wind that was just over the legal limit. While he did not enter the record books, he did the qualification mark set by the World Athletics.

How good was this? Well, it is the seventh-best jump in the world this season. He would have won the bronze medal at the 2020 Olympics, would have finished fifth at the 2019 World Championships and won a bronze at the 2020 Olympics. Calling it impressive would be an understatement.

Did Aldrin’s form dip afterwards? Yes, and there’s no denying that. He recorded jumps of 7.82m and 7.69m in Italy and Spain respectively. At the National Inter State Championships in June, he beat the 7.71m mark in the qualification round but failed to impress in the final, with five foul attempts and one legal effort of 7.51m which saw him finish fifth overall.

The AFI then proceeded to not include him in the roster for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which made sense since the federation could pick a maximum of 36 athletes for the event. Other, better-performing athletes deserved their place, no doubt.

What was baffling, however, was AFI’s decision to omit him from India’s World Championships contingent. Each country is allowed to send three athletes for each event in the World Championships, but AFI chose to settle with two - Murali Sreeshankar and Muhammad Yahiya Anees. There was no replacement for Aldrin, just a spot the federation decided to forgo rather than hope for the 20-year-old to rediscover his mojo in the USA.

Stifling an athlete, for no rhyme or reason

What makes this whole scenario pitiable was AFI’s ever-changing stance. They cited his poor form while dropping him, they then set criteria to meet in trials and proceeded to finally include him despite him not meeting it. They excluded him from the World Athletics Championships, choosing to forgo a spot rather than pick an athlete who worked hard to beat the qualification mark.

Ironically, he didn’t need to ‘rediscover’ anything qualify for the final alongside Sreeshankar in Oregon. The 7.99m mark that he achieved in the trials this month would have placed him joint-eighth, alongside Henry Frayne and behind Sreeshankar’s 8m mark, at the 2022 World Athletics Championships.

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Jeswin Aldrin wasn’t the only player wronged in the last few weeks. Another athlete, high jumper Tejaswin Shankar, was omitted from the 2022 Commonwealth Games squad despite being the only athlete to achieve the Indian qualification mark of 2.27 metres at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June. Long story short, Shankar took the AFI to court, won his case only to be told that CWG organisers rejected his late inclusion.

While Sreeshankar became the first Indian long jumper to qualify for the final of World Athletics Championships in the sport, the country could’ve had another put etch his name into history.

The AFI dropped the ball, made bad calls that have only looked worse in hindsight. They will seamlessly move on from the whole episode, while all the country, and Aldrin, are left with is one question: What if?

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