Tokyo Olympics: Long jumper Murali Sreeshankar, although 22, has made his share of sacrifices to make it to the Olympics. From giving up parottas, the layered, flaky flatbread staple in Kerala, to training long hours in the evening instead of hanging out with friends, he has done all this just for one dream — to win India its first Olympic medal in the long jump. He believes an 8.35m jump on the D-day will be enough to climb the podium, something Anju Bobby George, another Keralite and one of India’s finest long jumpers missed at the 2004 Athens Games.
“I am figuring out my performance parameters every day. I am getting closer to that big target. There is good enough time left to sharpen the skills. I just need to focus on myself and I am sure if I jump around 8.35m, I will land a medal,” the Palakkad-born told InsideSport.
In March, with a jump of 8.26m in his fifth and final attempt, Sreeshankar broke his own national record and qualified for Tokyo Olympics at the Federation Cup in Patiala. To put why this is a huge leap, at the 2016 Rio Games, the fourth-place finish was an 8.25m effort by Jarrion Lawson (USA). In 2012, the silver medallist Michael Watt registered just 8.16m.
For Sreesankar, who is in the final year of his BSc. Math at Government Victoria College, the 8.35m jump is a target which is possible in Tokyo. He says, the condition in Kerala and in Tokyo are pretty similar and it will be easy for him to adapt to them.
“Conditions play a big role, especially in the long jump. The more ions in the air, the better an athlete will perform. I think long jumper worldwide loved the Rio weather. It was hot and humid. London was cold at night. Barring Greg Rutherford (who won gold), no one could make big leaps. He was acclimatised to those conditions so it was easy for him.”
“Tokyo has similar conditions as in Kerala. It will be around 35 degrees and the stadiums will be packed so no wind disturbance. It will be very helpful for me,” says the 2018 Asian Junior bronze medallist, who trains with his father and coach Muralidaran.
Tokyo Olympics: Good Sprinters Can Make Excellent Long Jumpers
Although India’s prime long jumper, Sreeshankar did not start his sporting career as one. Instead, he began as a sprinter as a kid, watching his father train. S Muralidaran is a former triple jumper and silver medallist at the South Asian Games, while his wife K. S. Bijimol is a former 800m silver medal at Junior Asian Athletics Championship.
Sreeshankar says the transition was very smooth for him. “I was a natural switch. Even though my parents were international athletes, there was no compulsion for me to take up the sport. But since it’s in my gene, I quite naturally ended up in it.
“Even after my father’s retirement, he used to go to the stadium for his fitness training. So, I use to accompany him. Initially, I took up sports as a sprinter. I competed at a district level tournament. Gradually shifted to the long jump as I showed more aptitude in it. To be honest sports and jumps are closely related. If you want to be a great jumper, then you have to be a great sprinter too,” he says confidently.
Tokyo Olympics: Competitions a concern but confident of overcoming this challenge
With lockdown in Kerala, Sreeshankar took special permission to train at a stadium near his home in Palakkad. He trains six times a week with Sunday as a rest day. His father has discussed the technicalities he missed in Patiala to make it an 8.35m jump and that is what the duo is now focused on rectifying.
“When I jumped 8.26m, I took off 10 cm behind the line. After the 8.26m jump, my father chalked out the areas I need to work on to make that big leap in Tokyo. Speed and take off will be the major focus now,” he says adding “I am training six times a week. Normally, it’s training from 4:30 pm to 9 pm in the evening. And morning is recovery. Two days, I have mobility training in the morning and otherwise, it’s core training. The plan is all laid out“.
Despite the pandemic, Sreeshankar is in a positive frame of mind and says that his training has remained unaffected. He is hopeful of competing in competitions in Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan but if travel restrictions prevent that, he will compete in India.
“It’s a major setback for us as competing in international events is quite essential because that stimulates great competitive atmosphere towards the Olympic Games. It’s a tough situation for athletes,” he says adding “it’s a challenge for us. And life of an athlete is all about overcoming challenges. I hope that all-out Indian athletes will overcome this challenge and do good at the Games”.