Indian athlete Nayana James shows promise as budding star with 6.55m jump

Indian athlete Nayana James shows promise as budding star with 6.55m jump

Nayana James’ sudden rise has raised a lot of eyebrows too.

The Kerala long jumper improved her personal best by nearly 50cms at the Federation Cup which surprised Bobby Aloysius, the former Asian high jump champion who coached Nayana for three years till late last year.

“Yes, I was shocked with Nayana’s 6.55m at Patiala. I expected her to do something in 6.20 range this year and 6.50 in probably two or three years,” said Bobby.

“I don’t think she can do something like 6.70m in future because her basic speed is very low. That is why I thought that she had a brighter future in heptathlon.”

But Nayana feels that working with her new coach Ajith Kumar suits her well. “I feel an overall improvement, both my speed and conversion rates have improved,” she said.

Ajith said that he had been working specifically on her speed.

“Her performances may have shocked everybody but not me. I am basically a sprints coach, so my workouts are all speed-oriented, it has probably helped Nayana sustain her speed and steady her jumps,” said Ajith.

“We are aiming for something between 6.65 to 6.75m (the entry standard for the Worlds). And she has jumped 6.63m while training at our Alva’s College ground (near Mangalore). A good long jump show will bring a 100m hurdles medal too, if all goes well.”

Nayana James once touted as the next big thing in women’s long jump event after Anju Bobby George, the lone Indian to win gold in a World meet, has rediscovered her mojo. The 21-year-old leapt to 6.55m at the Federation Cup Senior Athletics Championships in Patiala last month to announce her arrival on the big stage in style.

Nayana credits the turnaround to her stint with C Ajith Kumar, 45, the unassuming coach hailing from Changanassery. Ajith, a former athlete who was a training partner with Anju during their school days, tweaked Nayana’s technique and coerced her to work hard.

“I made changes in her techniques especially in the use of arms during the take-off. She worked hard on her endurance and strength. The beach running and running drills worked wonders on her. Moreover, she is very dedicated. The result is there for everyone to see,” said Ajith.

Before she came under Ajith, Nayana career was not going anywhere. Her much-publicised stint with Olympian and Asian champion Bobby Aloysius didn’t bear the desired result. Though under Bobby, Nayana touched six metres for the first time, she couldn’t improve on her performance thereafter. First spotted by KM Peter, a former athlete and bank employee retiree, while she was a prodigious school student at St. George HSS, Kulathuvayal, Perambra in Kozhikode Nayana was trumped as one for future. And in 2010, shifted to SAI, Thalaserry for Plus Two as a trainee of Jose Mathew who moulded international Mayookha Johny.

Nayana with a series of jumps over 5.50m including 5.94m at Youth Nationals at Bengaluru in 2012, couldn’t recreate the magic. She even opted to take a break and concentrate on getting admission to a professional course which didn’t materialise. Nayana did a bold move by shifting to Thiruvananthapuram to be under the watchful eyes of Bobby and former international jumper Subhash M George under the Kerala Cricket Association’s Mission Gold scheme. The consistency was missing and her career was at crossroads.

It was her fiancee Kevin Oscar, a cricketer with SBI team, Thiruvananthapuram who advised her to approach Ajith who trains sprinters and the famous among his trainees being Jijth Vijayan

“Under Ajith Sir, I pushed myself hard. I have now done a series of jumps over six metres and I am pretty confident. It started with six-metre jump in inter-college (5.86m at University Stadium) and again at the inter-varsity meets (6.07m at Coimbatore). I have now done my best performance in the Federation Cup early this month. My aim is to win gold for India at Asian meet and automatically qualify for London World Championships,” Nayana told TOI before leaving for Bhubaneswar to make her stamp in prestigious Asian Athletics Championships which begins from July 6 to 9.

Meanwhile, Nayana passed fitness tests on Saturday in Bhubaneswar and was cleared to take part in the meet. With AFI secretary CK Valson and deputy chief national coach Radhakrishnan Nair watching, she jumped 6.25m.

However, Ajith says Nayana still has a long way to go but feels her prowess as a hurdler will put her in good stead in the long jump. Nayana’s best in 100m hurdles is 13.94 seconds and her ability as hurdler helps her in to make explosive jumps.

Former national jumps coach T P Ouseph who trained both Anju and Bobby to international level in the long jump and high jump events feels Nayana can be the first Indian to touch 7m which was endorsed by current national jumps coach Bibu Mathew too.

The lone and first Indian athlete to win a medal at worlds, Anju was not only pleasantly surprised but insisted that Nayana can make an impact internationally. “You know 6.50-plus is a good show. She can really make it if she can maintain this form,” Anju told TOI.