India's long jump star Sreeshankar takes off

Ever since breaking the national record with a 8.20m jump, 19-year-old long jumper Sreeshankar has been one of India's leading medal prospects at international events.

M. Sreeshankar of Kerala soaring to a record distance in the men's long jump final at the 58th National Open athletics championship at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar in September.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

Age: 19

From: Palakkad (Kerala)

Education: Doing his B.Sc (Maths) at the Government Victoria College, Palakkad. Had foregone admission in a medical college even after securing a seat. Completed first semester of engineering degree course with high marks, but had to quit it to focus on athletics.

Discipline: Athletics (long jump).

Beginning: Having international athletes as parents had its advantage for Sreeshankar, who fell in love with athletics at a young age. When he was around five years old, he used to accompany his father S. Murali to the ground for training every weekend and play on his own. “When he was five, he had created an email id, [email protected],” said Murali.

In an under-10 event in Kerala in 2008, Sreeshankar won gold medals in 50m and 100m. But what impressed Murali was when his son cleared 5.22m in long jump without any training, at the Kerala State mini athletics meet a year later.

After Sreeshankar's bronze medal winning effort of 5.85m in the South Zone junior meet in Kochi when he was just 16, Murali became serious about his son’s long jump training.

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Aim:

Sreeshankar, who could not compete in the Commonwealth Games due to a critical appendicitis surgery in March and could not give his best in the World junior championships and Asian Games in 2018, is hungry for success.

For the Kerala boy, the two major targets next year are the Asian Championships and the World championships in Doha. While he is expected to do well in the Asian event, the Worlds, where the entries are restricted to 32, will be a tough one.

He is also keen to leave his mark in the World university meet in Naples in July 2019.

After these three, Sreeshankar has the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in mind. Murali remains patient and hopes that by 22-23 years of age his son would become physically stronger. “Sreeshankar has the potential to do 8.50m. If he can do that in the Olympics, he will be able to land a medal,” said Murali.

Sreshankar with his father Murali who was a former athlete.   -  Stan Rayan

 

Father and mentor: Murali has to balance between his roles as a father and a coach. But he is sensible enough not to put undue pressure on his son.

Psychologically, Sreeshankar is dependent on his father. After breaking the National record at the National Open athletics championships in Bhubaneswar in September, Sreeshankar said, “I missed my father’s inputs at the Asian Games and that’s why my performance was not as good as it should have been. Here, he made some technical change in my approach and it helped achieve the record.”

According to Murali, who was trained by German coach and bio-mechanics expert Dr. George Ramlow during the 1980s and 1990s at the National camp, not putting too much load on Sreeshankar has worked well.

“I have never scolded Sreeshankar for not performing well. He is hard-working and always gives his best. When he does not feel great I invite him for a game of basketball. He is good at long range shooting,” said Murali.

Murali is happy that Sreehankar is not inclined towards short-cuts to success. “Since we don’t have proper facilities in Palakkad, we travelled 60km to Coimbatore once or twice a week to train there. Despite the limited facilities, he worked hard to achieve success. He has achieved all this without taking any supplements. He does not even take coffee as he is scared of doping. Of course, he takes some protein,” said Murali, who works with the Railways.

Whether athletics or studies, Sreeshankar loves to give his best. As he is not willing to neglect his studies, it is learnt that the Athletics Federation of India has agreed to provide all training facilities to the promising athlete in Palakkad.

ALSO READ | Sreeshankar shatters national record

Mother: K. S. Bijimol, a middle distance runner of her time and an employee of the Food Corporation of India, is a doting mother. After Sreeshankar broke his pal Ankit Sharma’s National record of 8.19m by leaping to 8.20m in Bhubaneswar, Bijimol, who was watching her son from the stands, came down to plant a kiss on his cheek.

Murali cited an example to highlight the mother-son bonding. “Even today, Sreeshankar’s mother feeds him. Of course, when he goes abroad he finds it difficult to have food on his own,” said Murali.

“As both of us are athletes, we always discuss sports at home. Even our daughter, Sreeparvathy (a Class XI student), is into athletics and has competed in district level meets. That creates a good atmosphere,” said Murali.

 

Achievements:

2017: National Schools Meet: Gold; National junior meet: Gold; Indian Grand Prix: Gold

2018: Federation Cup: Gold; Asian junior championships: Bronze; World junior championships: Sixth; National inter-state meet: Gold; Asian Games: Sixth; National Open meet: Gold