Aspiring British high jumper Chris Kandu sets no limitations on his career goals. The 20-year-old is strong on confidence after claiming a bronze medal at the European under-23 Championships in Tallinn in the summer.
His impressive 2015 season saw him claim his third consecutive national title, and place third in the British rankings behind Robbie Grabarz and Allan Smith.
It’s a close event overall, with the top six British men jumping within four centimetres of one another in 2015, and Kandu relishes the rivalry. “Competing with the top jumpers in the country is pretty cool. Everyone is at the same level pretty much. I believe I can be the best out of the bunch and I’ve been learning my trade against these guys since I was 17, so hopefully I can show some pedigree next season against the senior jumpers.”
With all six athletes having been tutored by legendary High Jump coach Fayyaz Ahmed at some point within the last two years, there is a familiarity about the competition. But this also offers a sense of the level of respect afforded to Ahmed as a coach. “I’ve never met such a character like him in my life – I learn something new every day with him. He has taken me in like a family member, making me feel welcome in the group.
“I haven’t had a relationship like that with any other coach, hence why it is a joy working with him. The group is great. Everyone has a flaw I can learn from which is good and every session everyone works hard and is always smiling which is a bonus.”
The Enfield and Haringey athlete’s assurance shows how he has progressed from the child who learnt by watching past greats on television. “I first got into athletics when I was 12-13 years old, but what inspired me to go down to a track was watching Germaine Mason at the 2008 Olympic Games winning a medal in the High Jump.”
“When I first started, I was trying all events as a young excited kid would do, but I think the high jump was just so facilitating and I became a student of it at a very young age, watching videos on YouTube and coaching conferences on how to jump the right way. From there I wanted to take the event seriously. I even had posters of high jumpers on my wall, so love for the event just grew yearly.”
From there the rise has continued. Kandu came away with 7th place and a highest jump of 2.20m from last year’s IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene. The taste of international competition spurred him on to improve in 2015, although he admits it’s been a year of ups and downs. “I would say my 2015 season has been a learning curve. I’ve learned so much about myself and what it takes to be a world class athlete. I’ve endured more setbacks than ever this year. It hasn’t defeated me – it’s humbled me and given me hunger to be the greatest.”
It started off on an encouraging note, as he set his lifetime best of 2.26m at the Birmingham Indoor Grand Prix at the start of the year. Clearing that height in a field of far more experienced athletes, after only managing 2.18m a week earlier means Kandu holds it high within his list of achievements to date. “The most exiting (moment) was the Birmingham Indoor Grand Prix. After going through adversity the week before at the senior trials, it was a good feeling getting a personal best in front of a big crowd and beating some world class jumpers in the process.
“Reflecting on the season I can look back on how I handled myself at the European under-23 Championships. I wasn’t supposed to get a medal according to the statistics, but I had the confidence and belief I was going to medal even though I was carrying an injury, so I can see the competitive maturity coming though.”
Heading into the winter and moving forward, performing when it matters in major tournaments is the focus. “Every senior athlete has the target of making the games. I do too, but I don’t just want to make the team, I want to perform at the games also. Overall my target is to introduce myself on the world stage where I’m competing at Diamond Leagues and making international finals. I know I’m putting in the work to get there and God willing, it will become a reality in 2016.”
Many athletes will know, that the support offered by friends and family can be key to sustaining development. In this regard, Kandu says he’s extremely grateful. “Family support has always been good and I’m grateful for everything they’ve done. My family all work hard, so it is difficult for them to see me compete, which I respect because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be the person or jumper I am today. They motivate me every day to be successful, they pray countless hours for me to have a prosperous career where I can give back, not only to them, but to people in need of support.”
As for how prosperous his career will be, time will tell. It has been hard for fans of British athletics to set expectations for their high jumpers, with 2012 medallist Grabarz recently returning from a long injury, and Isobel Pooley just 22, and still learning from major tournament experiences. However, Kandu is well-placed to judge the current state of the event, and is encouraged by what he sees. “British High Jumping at the moment isn’t where we should be, but everyone is arriving towards being medal contenders. I can see we have a good future ahead, especially with the girls. Isobel, Morgan Lake & Katarina Johnson-Thompson can do scary things on the world stage.”
“On the men’s side, I believe it can reach the golden days of (British record holder) Steve Smith and Dalton Grant again. I’m hoping to carry that torch and re-live the days where 2.38m plus is the norm, alongside Robbie Grabarz.”
Neither he or his training partners are short of inspiration, but naturally a special place is reserved for one of the sport’s most cherished competitors. “My favourite athlete of all-time would have to be Carl Lewis. I know it was before my time, but you can’t ignore the accolades and performances he laid down. It shows anything is possible if you utilise your talent.”
“I want to go down in history as one of the greatest high jumpers ever. I know it’s going to be hard, but I’m willing to push my body to astronomical levels to ensure my goal is achieved.”
Personal Best Performances:
Ultimate goals – “I want to be able to break records and win titles multiple times.”
Feature by Alex Seftel
Photography by RKR-photos & TrackField97