‘I’m hopeful of jumping 8.40m by season end’ - Long jump record holder M Sreeshankar has his eyes trained on Tokyo 2020!
It was a fine Tuesday morning in Patiala and S Murali, a former Indian athlete, had a gut-feeling that his son Sreeshankar Murali was on the cusp of a defining achievement.
‘Today is your day’, he told the long jump national record holder. And as his father foretold, by evening, Sreeshankar had made it his day, soaring 8.26m in the long jump event at the Federation Cup athletics to redefine the national record and clinch a spot at Tokyo 2020.
The 21-year-old from Palakkad in Kerala was suddenly the toast of the nation. For Sreeshankar, it was just reward for his passion and love for sports and athletics, honed by calculated and methodical guidance from his parents.
It was no wonder that the youngster took to sports and athletics right from a very young age. His father and his mother KS Bijimol both represented and won laurels for India in various international meets. Their influence and the fact that most of his family including cousins were all involved in various sports meant Sreeshankar’s initiation into track and field was no surprise.
“From a very young age, I was quite interested in sports. I was particularly into track and field because both my parents were international athletes. Almost all my family members were related to sports one way or the other. My cousins were tennis players, basketball players. So this was what was around me from my childhood. I was quite into this field, naturally,” Sreeshankar told the Olympic Channel.
Though he found his calling in long jump, Sreeshankar was initially a sprinter and one who had considerable success in the junior circuits as well.
“I would go to the nearby grounds along with my father and would run and play all the time. As a young kid, I started as a sprinter. I had success as a sprinter too, winning gold medals in the district and state level meets. I didn’t train seriously during that time though. It was more like having fun for me.”
However, it was his father, himself proficient in long jump and triple jump, who identified his son’s true calling. He moulded a champion jumper but with a careful programme that was designed not to rush and overwork his talent.
“I gradually shifted to long jump as I grew up. (That was because) my father realised the potential in me and felt that I have good jumping ability. So, I gradually shifted from sprinting to long jump. I started serious training in long jump from my 10th standard.
“And I did not start training heavily back then. My father initiated me slowly into long jumping. He was building me up meticulously in a proper way, considering all fundamentals required to become a proper long jumper. My dad himself was a long jumper and had trained under foreign coaches and knew how to develop an athlete properly.”
And the result of that patient approach was an 8.26m jump that has propelled him straight into the Olympics and made the country sit up and take note of a precocious talent.
“What he focused on me was to build my fundamentals properly. Year by year, I was making sure that I had progressed in my jumps by around 20-25 cms. I kept on adding to my jumps and I got the big jump now,” revealed a confident Sreeshankar.
However, this was not the first time Sreeshankar had given us a glimpse of his capabilities. He broke the long jump national record for the first time back in September 2018 at the National Open Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar which came on the back of a disappointing Asian Games where he finished sixth after run-up issues.
All of 19 years old back then, his distance of 8.20m was the world-leading jump of the season among U20 athletes.
He has been working diligently on his technique and is very confident in improving on his record jump in Patiala. And with Tokyo 2020 only a few months away, Sreeshankar is looking to realise his dream and stand a chance of winning the first athletic medal for India post-independence.
“It’s a big dream for me. Now there are only a few months left and there are a lot of competitions lined up. I need to break my record again and again and I’m sure that I can do that.
“There are a lot of technical corrections I need to make and improvise. If I’m able to get those right, I’m sure I’ll be able to jump around 8.40m by the end of the season. Hopefully, I can do that in the Olympic Games and win that elusive medal for our country.”
Apart from the technical support from his parents, their mental support has been key in keeping the flame raging high on Sreeshankar’s Olympic dream.
“They never said anything negative to me regarding my sporting career. Both of them were international athletes, they knew how to develop one and what should be my mindset and how my daily life should be.
“My mother used to prescribe a diet for me. I’m also working with a dietician and he communicates the diet to my mother and she makes sure I stick to the diet. My father knew how tiresome and what sort of dedication is required to excel at a higher level. Both are very influential in my career.
“That’s what many of our athletes lack. If they’re coming from a non-sporting background, their parents or relatives may not understand the exact situation. My case was very different because of my family and parents.”
With his parents acting as his perfect launchpad, the young athlete is focused on soaring to new 'lengths' in Tokyo.