Breaking furniture, records too!

The year 2018 was a very tough one for Sreeshankar, but 2019 promises to be an exciting one for the long-jumper as there are a number of events. Will Sreeshankar take us to a new world?

M. Sreeshankar acknowledges the crowd’s cheers after setting a national record in long jump at the 58th National open athletics championship in Bhubaneswar on September 27, 2018.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

As a little boy, M. Sreeshankar frequently used to run and jump on to the sofa in his house in Palakkad. And at nights, the bed was his jumping pit.

“He has broken the legs of our sofa and other furniture a few times,” says Bijimol as she smiles at her long jumper son at their home. “He must have been around seven then.”

And when he was just two, Sreeshankar often used to race to a temple, some 600m away from his house, whenever his dad S. Murali went for a walk in that area.

Well, it is all in the genes.

Murali is a former SAF Games triple jump silver medallist while his wife Bijimol, an 800m runner, won a similar medal at the Junior Asians. And now, after years of careful coaching, Murali has made his son Sreeshankar the world’s best junior long jumper.

A couple of months ago, at the Open Nationals in Bhubaneswar, Sreeshankar broke the men’s national record, pushing it to 8.20m, a feat that made the 19-year-old the world’s No. 1 this season.

And despite not having a World junior, Commonwealth Games or an Asian Games medal to his name, the youngster is one of India’s brightest faces in athletics. He belongs to an elite gang which includes javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra and quartermiler Hima Das, both World junior champions. And this is a group that has the potential to win independent India’s first-ever Olympic medal in athletics.

Unlike other ladies in this part of the world, Bijimol — a manager with the FCI — rarely gets to watch Malayalam serials or even go for movies.

“If I try to put a serial on TV, it will soon be changed to a sports channel… it could be any sport. If I tell them, ‘let’s go for a movie’, my daughter would want to go to the Fort maidan and play basketball there,” says Bijimol.

Surprisingly, for someone who appears very calm and composed, Sreeshankar is a huge fan of WWE wrestling.

“I watch it whenever I find time but since I go to the ground in the evenings, I always miss the fights,” says the youngster.

M. Sreeshankar on his way to the gold at the 58th National open athletics championship in Bhubaneswar on September 27, 2018.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

 

Sreeshankar was good at cricket in school.

“I was very interested in cricket earlier. I was a fast bowler and I used to play with my friends in school but I didn’t play any tournament,” says Sreeshankar.

“I used to like Brett Lee, Mitchell Starc, Shane Warne and of course, Sachin Tendulkar. I used to play cricket till the sixth standard and then all of us shifted to basketball.”

Murali virtually lives in a family colony and his brothers stay close by.

“I was the youngest at home and all my brothers were good at sport, either in sprints or in jumps, and my elder brother Haridas held the Calicut University 200m record for a long time,” says Murali. “And (the late) K. K. Premachandran, the 1982 Asian Games 400m silver medallist, lived close to our house.”

That meant that there would be a group of people from that colony going every evening to the Fort maidan. And almost always, Murali would take his family along.

The synthetic track, which came up near the Medical College in Palakkad two years ago, is now their regular haunt.

“Our MLA Shafi Parambil, who took the initiative to bring the synthetic track here, said he did it mainly for Sreeshankar,” says Murali. Sreeshankar used to travel frequently to Coimbatore for his jump sessions earlier and his sporting career took a huge leap forward with the arrival of the new track at home.

There is still a lot of work to be done at the ground, the sand in the jumping pit is often hot, hard and heavy and there is not a drop of water anywhere nearby to sprinkle over it. There was no place to store equipment, so Sreeshankar and his friends built a small room near the track to keep their hurdles and other training stuff.

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Whenever Murali and his family — his other child, Sreeshankar’s sister Sreeparvathy is a good long jumper but is now focusing on the heptathlon — go for training, they pack their car with cans of water and the vehicle’s boot is loaded with small hurdles and other athletics equipment.

Sreeshankar loves music, A. R. Rahman is his favourite, and he enjoys the fast numbers in Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi.

“He prefers Tamil numbers while Sreeparvathy loves Hindi songs. These days, he carries wireless speakers to the athletics track and plays Tamil songs a bit loudly. But as soon as he goes to the other end of the stadium, Parvathy would play Hindi songs,” says Bijimol.

A brilliant student and the teachers’ favourite at the Kendriya Vidyalaya where he did his schooling and at the Victoria College, Sreeshankar is a sort of role model for youngsters in Palakkad but the one person he has many squabbles with is his sister.

“He fights often but he is everything to me, he is very loving and caring brother too,” says Sreeparvathy. “And wherever I go, I’m known as Sreeshankar’s sister so I’m really proud of him. He has been the chief guest at some of my school functions too.” Sreeparvathy frequently helps out her dad as he searches the internet for the little things that could help Sreeshankar become a better athlete.

“I watch all events, even the marathon closely and the throws closely, trying to understand their movements, trying to see if it could help my son in some way,” says Murali.

A father-coach can be a great blessing.

Sreeshankar with his sister Sreeparvathy, mother K. Bijimol and father, S. Murali. They all have athletics connections. Murali is also Sreeshankar’s coach.   -  Shaji Mullokkaran

 

“There is no strict training schedule for Sreeshankar, almost every day the training time changes, depending on how fresh he is after college. And the work-out patterns are done specifically for him, it changes day to day. No other coach can be as flexible as his dad,” says Bijimol.

The year 2018 was a very tough one for Sreeshankar, a year when he underwent a very complicated appendix surgery, that saw him miss the Commonwealth Games and did not give him enough time to prepare properly for the under-20 Worlds in Tampere (Finland) and the Jakarta Asiad.

2019 promises to be an exciting year and there are a number of events too.

Will Sreeshankar take us to a new world?

A crucial year and a big 8.40m promise!

After a certain stage, like the 8.30m, progress in long jump often comes very slowly, centimetre by painful centimetre.

But Sreeshankar and his dad Murali believe that he is ready for a big jump in 2019, a crucial year with Doha hosting the Asian Championships in April and the World Championships in September-October.

“Next year, if nothing untoward happens, he will break the national record (his own 8.20m) in the first meet. He has started his preparations for the next season and currently, almost all his performance parameters, be it speed, strength or short-approach jumps, are close to his best,” reveals Murali.

“Last season, he was doing something like 7.30m with 11-stride jumps, now he is doing 7.60 on a short take-off. In normal circumstances, on a full approach, this indicates that he could probably do a metre more in competitions if one looks at his speed and speed conversion.”

They believe that 8.40m is very much possible.

“If we are going the same way without injuries, next year, I think I can definitely do 8.40m,” says Sreeshankar, a first year B.Sc (Maths) student in Palakkad’s Government Victoria College.

Though Murali says that Sreeshankar’s long-term goal is the 2024 Paris Olympics, he is confident that 8.40m would bring a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics considering the fact that it would be very hot in Japan during that period.

Sreeshankar training in his hometown, Palakkad. He needs better facilities.   -  Shaji Mullokkaran

 

Something like that would be sensational, virtually the stuff of dreams, but Antony Yaich, the head coach of JSW’s Bellary-based Inspire Institute of Sport which supports Sreeshankar, feels the youngster should make some crucial moves now.

“I think he has the potential to do some very big jumps but, he has to make the right decisions now. There are a lot of jumpers in the world who are capable of jumping 8.60m or close to it but what makes the difference is having a good physio, a good scientific team behind you and, of course, a good coach,” says the Frenchman.

“His father is doing a good job but Sreeshankar is missing so many things, including a proper nutritionist. We have a lot of facilities in our high performance centre (at Bellary in Karnataka), we also have cryotherapy, which I don’t think is available anywhere in India.”

Yaich has planned a month-long training camp for Sreeshankar in the US next year.

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“We will go to a training camp in the US for a month, we are planning three competitions for him, at Pheonix, San Diego and in Texas El Paso, these will be university and international meets. There will be many jumping over 8m in these meets,” revealed the Frenchman.

“During May-June, we plan to go to a training camp in Paris and from there, try to do some Diamond League events in Doha, Paris, Birmingham and Lausanne.”

But will he get an entry in the Diamond League which is open to some of the world’s best athletes?

“My agent is one of the best in the world, so that shouldn’t be a problem. But Sreeshankar has to jump, as soon as possible, over 8.20m to get to these competitions. It all depends on him now,” says Yaich.

“If he is going to do only 8m at the start of the season, he will not be doing any Diamond League but even with 8m, we can do some international meets in Europe.”