Sreeshankar’s giant leap: Why qualifying the long jumper for the world championship final is a big breakthrough in Indian athletics


After dismal performances at the 2019 Doha World Championships and the Tokyo Olympics, where he failed to reach the final, the inevitable question regarding long jumper Murali Sreeshankar ahead of the current Worlds was: will he able to handle the pressure of major competitions?

The 23-year-old put those doubts to rest on Friday, with an 8m best attempt that earned him a place in the final, making him the first male long jumper in the country to do so. His compatriots Jeswin Aldrin and Anees Yahiya will no longer give him company in Oregon as they failed to qualify for the finals. No matter what happens from now on, Sreeshankar’s achievement is nothing short of a breakthrough in Indian athletics.

“It’s a huge thing for the long jump in the country. I stopped at the 8.19m range but always dreamed that another Indian would take over. At one time jumping the 8m barriers was considered huge, now we have three jumpers who can do it. When I was competing, I couldn’t imagine a long jumper from our country reaching the Worlds final,” says Ankit Sharma, who was the national record holder until Sreeshankar rewrote it for the first time. times in 2018.

Sharma also praised the youngster’s technique and commitment to the job. He had no qualms about comparing Sreeshankar’s attitude and work ethic to that of India’s greatest track and field athlete, Neeraj Chopra.

“He has great genes thanks to his athletic parents. Its strength is its explosiveness. It can do 8m at any takeoff angle. His approach has also improved a lot lately. Just like Neeraj, he is also very dedicated and humble. He has no distractions and works very hard like Neeraj,” adds Sharma.

Preparing for the Tokyo Olympics was far from ideal for Sreeshankar and his father-coach Murali. The Indian Athletics Federation put him through a fitness trial where he performed poorly. Coach Murali had to give him in writing that his son would hit the 8m mark in Tokyo. Sreeshankar was already pissed off even before the start of his campaign and he finally managed a best jump of 7.69m, which was not enough for a place in the final.

But this season, Sreeshankar has shown much more maturity and consistency by crossing the 8m mark on many occasions. At the Interstate Meet, Final Selection and Fitness Trials for CWG, he cleared the 8m mark in the heats themselves and came back to claim gold with a decent jump of 8.21m .

The polite but cheerful athlete also had a long chat with Robert Bobby George, who played a major role in shaping Sreeshankar’s technique, before heading to Oregon. Bobby, who coached Anju to India’s only medal at the World Championships, summed up the whole conversation in one line: “I asked him to take the qualifying round very seriously.”

Huge potential

When Bobby first saw Sreeshakar jump in 2017, he saw the youngster’s immense potential but he wanted to ask the Kerala athlete to change his technique. Bobby was certain that Sreeshankar, whose best jumps were between 7.60 and 7.70m, should abandon his outdated suspension technique and adopt the hitch kick (athletes make a cyclical motion with their legs in the air) to cross the 8 m mark. Murali was initially reluctant to heed Robert’s advice.

“I spoke to his father about it and he seemed very reluctant. He was worried that Sree’s performance would go down further,” Robert recalled. But Bobby wasn’t going to give up so easily.

“I spoke to Sree’s mother and explained the process to her. I also talked to his sister and told her to convince her brother. Within four months he made the switch and the following year broke the 8 million mark. I’m happy to have had an instrumental role to play in Sreeshankar’s career,” says Robert.

Robert believes that reaching the final of a major tournament like Worlds will boost Sreehsankar’s confidence and help him in future majors. “He is very young and still has 6-7 years ahead of him,” he said. Robert, the country’s most technically sound horizontal jumps coach, has more advice in store for the youngster on his journey.

“His last steps before the jump need fixing,” he says. “He takes longer strides instead of faster strides, which I think will help him gain more distance.”


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