KOCHI: After he bettered his own long jump national record to earn an Olympic berth on Tuesday, Sreeshankar Murali is chuffed but grounded. He knows there is still plenty of work to be done before boarding the flight to Tokyo. On the way back to his hometown Palakkad from Patiala after registering a new national record mark of 8.26 metres, the 21-year-old athlete opened up about his journey.
“I had wanted to ensure qualification in the Indian GP last month but I was not in any rhythm at that time. But now I feel really happy to have set a new record and qualified,” said Sreeshankar who went past his previous mark of 8.20m and the Olympic qualifying standard of 8.22m with his fifth and final jump in Patiala the other day.
“My rhythm was very good yesterday and there was a good flow. I could use my power to the optimum effect. There really wasn’t any doubt about whether I could qualify or not,” said Sreeshankar who is trained by his father Murali, a former triple jumper and silver medallist at the South Asian Games.
“All the credit for my achievements goes to my father. He identified my speed and explosiveness at a very young age and groomed me as an athlete. The only advice he has given me is to be straightforward in anything that I do. He is very strict in his training routines and taught me that there are no shortcuts to success,” said Sreeshankar whose mother KS Bijimol is a former 800m runner.
Sreeshankar wants to breach the 8.40m mark going forward. “It is obviously a dream come true for me to take part in the Olympics. But I know I have a lot of areas to improve. My next target is to achieve the 8.40 mark. There are some technical aspects that I have to work on for that. I have to get better in my run-up and rhythm,” said Sreeshankar, a BSC mathematics student at Palakkad Victoria College, who had the option of joining MBBS but decided against it to further his ambitions in athletics.
Sreeshankar and his father moved their entire training home during the lockdown. “I shifted my equipment to my valiachan’s (father’s brother) house and set up a gym facility. My cousins and all helped me in my training as I worked towards building up my core strength and speed. Once the lockdown restrictions were lifted, I got to use the facilities at Palakkad medical college ground,” said Sreeshankar who has had to endure some difficult times during his yet nascent athletics career.
In 2018, he suffered a ruptured appendicitis and had to undergo surgery. He lost weight and it hampered his performances despite landing his first international medal, a bronze in the Junior Asian Championships in June 2018. “It took nearly five months for me to regain full fitness and form after the operation. I could not take part in the Commonwealth Games and could finish only sixth in the Asian Games that followed,” he said.
However, he set his previous national record mark of 8.20m in the National Open Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar in September 2018. “I was looking forward to 2019 but at the beginning of the year, I suffered a heel injury. I recovered in one month but once again it took me time to rediscover my form,” said Sreeshankar who is a basketball junkie.
“My favourite is Kobe Bryant. His death was a big loss for the sporting world. His work-ethic and mindset are my guiding forces. I have watched his videos and the way he recovers from injuries and setbacks has inspired me a lot,” he added.