Three weeks ago, at a time when athletes all over the country were getting into off-season mode, Kerala long jumper M. Sreeshankar was churning out some of his best jumps.

With just a half run-up, the 18-year-old junior national champion was going past 7.60m!
“Never before have I done such jumps with a half run-up. I used to do something like 7.25m on a 11-stride run-up but I recently did 7.62. That’s a huge difference,” said a thrilled Sreeshankar from his home base in Palakkad on Friday evening.

“I feel very confident and with a full 19-stride run-up, I think I can go past eight metres this year… probably even win gold at the under-20 Worlds in July.”

A change in technique, from the hang to hitch kick, is the reason for the stunning change. And coach Robert Bobby George, who guided his wife Anju George to the country’s first-ever World Championship medal in 2003, is the big reason for the youngster’s strong jumps.

“Bobby George had watched me very closely at the recent Junior National in Guntur (where he broke the under-20 meet record with a personal best 7.72m). And he told me that with my speed and running technique, I’d be able to cover more distance with the two-and-half hitch kick,” said the civil engineering student. “My dad and I worked on it and it has brought us massive rewards.”

With the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Junior Asians and the under-20 Worlds all lined up, this year will be a busy one for Sreeshankar. His steady career graph and impressive showing at the Junior National has brought him a berth in the Indian men’s team for the Indoor Asians in Teheran in early February and for the Asian Games test event in Jakarta a week after that.

“Since I’m still in off-season, I hope to do something like 7.80m in the two meets and then go for eight metres at the Federation Cup in Patiala in March,” said Sreeshankar.

Sreeshankar has athletics in his blood. His father, Murali who is also his coach, is a former triple jump international while his mother Bijimol was a strong 800m runner in her prime.
So, can he win a medal at the under-20 Worlds in Finland in July?

Sreeshankar is currently among the world’s top 15 among the jumpers who are eligible for the under-20 Worlds with Cuba’s Maykel Masso – the defending World junior champion who was fifth in the senior Worlds in London – leading this year’s world list with a massive 8.33m. Japan’s Yuki Hashioka is the next best with 8.05 while the others are all below eight metres.

“Sreeshankar has been very consistent during training, he has to do them in major competitions too, that is what we are working on,” said his dad Murali. “Of course, he will need plenty of luck too to win a medal at the under-20 Worlds.”