Only a few weeks ago, M Sreeshankar produced his season’s best performance (7.97m) as he won the long jump gold at the Tatyana Kolpakova international athletics in Bishkek.
Out of the six jumps, four were fouls, yet the 20-year-old — who holds the national record with 8.20m — had his best jump in the fourth, with the youngster having claimed four golds and a silver medal in his last five jumps on the European circuit.
But these feats were only a distant dream for Sreeshankar, who had to make the longest jump of his career to overcome a stumbling block no one saw coming.
After beginning the season with a jump of 7.99m, his promising career was thrust into jeopardy. An appendix rupture forced him to undergo surgery and spend three days in an intensive care unit. Not only that, it also poured water on his Commonwealth Games dreams. At the Asian Games, he could manage only a sixth-place finish with a best jump of 7.95m.
“It was a tough phase of my life. After winning the Federation Cup last year, it was a critical situation, considering my recent growth in the sport. I had an emergency operation for the appendix and it got ruptured in my stomach, which may have potentially been fatal,” Sreeshankar told Firstpost.
Due to a liquid diet and no training, he lost significant body weight. He couldn’t muster enough strength to walk properly. Moreover, the surgery didn’t give him enough time to prepare properly for the under-20 Worlds in Tampere (Finland) and the Asian Games in Jakarta. “Coming back was so challenging. It took 5-6 months to get back to my previous shape. I literally came back to zero. My physical condition was so bad that I had to think twice before competing anywhere,” the 20-year-old JSW athlete adds.
However, after spending months over recovery, Sreeshankar hit the ground running with a bang. The Palakkad native ended the year on a high at the Open Nationals in Bhubaneswar, where he broke the national record (8.20m). Thankfully, for the youngster, the recovery period did not hinder his flexibility as he graced the track with the same vigour.
Sreeshankar was the state 50m and 100m champion in the U-10 category and switched to long jump soon after. The athlete went on to rewrite the state records in U-12, U-16 and U-18 age levels before claiming the national junior record last March, displaying a rare precociousness over the course of his fledgeling career, much of which has come from his parents.
Sreeshankar's father S Murali is a former SAF Games triple jump silver medallist and an SAI approved personal coach, while his mother Bijimol, an 800m runner, won silver at the Junior Asians. It has taken years of intense coaching for Murali to transform his son into one of the top long jumpers in the world. "My father is a coach. He’s been coaching me ever since I started the sport. They have been influential in all my sporting decisions. My mother charts out a diet plan for me. So, it’s balanced,” says Sreeshankar.
Meanwhile, a lot of Indian athletes have turned their attention to move abroad for training with personal foreign coaches with better facilities. However, Sreeshankar prefers to develop with the help of his father, saying, “I have reached so far because of my father. After my surgery last year, he was key in the way I recovered and broke the national record.”
Much has been said about the new generation of elite Indian athletes the country has produced and how India’s athletics medal drought at World Championships or Olympics can come to an end. While the likes of Hima Das and Neeraj Chopra registering multiple medal-winning performances in 2018 and 2019, Sreeshankar is yet to deliver. For now, the 20-year-old is juggling between sports and studies. "You know how it works in India. We have to be good at both studies and sports," he laughs.
With the Tokyo Olympics 2020 just 12 months away, Sreeshankar says that he is gearing up for 2024 Olympics in Paris. "Long jump is all about strength, speed and flexibility. I’m focusing on 2024 and not much for 2020. Next year will be tough to get a medal, but by next Olympics, I’ll be ready for medals," he says.
Though Sreeshankar’s long-term goal is the 2024 Paris Olympics, he is confident that many Indian athletes have emerged as medal prospects, including himself. After all, he feels more responsible now.
"Turning into a genuine medal prospect makes me feel more responsible," he concludes.
Updated Date: Jul 25, 2019 21:43:01 IST