It’s been almost two years since the Commonwealth Games silver-medallist Sreeshankar Murali took an unusual vow. The 23-year-old long jumper decided to give up on one of his favourite meals – the Kerala Porotta (a flatbread made of maida) until he wins an Olympic medal. He is so resolute in his promise that he did not even break it after his recent CWG triumph.
“ I don’t know how that story popped up. But one day, I remember in 2019, I was having Porotta. All Malayalis know how big the Porotta is for us. My dad saw me and said, ‘you keep eating this and other athletes are jumping 8.15 metres and over’. So I told my dad I will not have it until the (Tokyo) Olympics. So immediately I called my parents and said I won’t have it until I win a medal. I didn’t have it after CWG. The treat is saved for the Olympics.
But at the Tokyo Olympics, Sreeshankar had a nightmarish outing where he could only manage a best jump of 7.69m and finished 24th in the heats. The following months were no less of an ordeal for Sreeshankar and his father and coach Sivasankaran Murali who was publicly sacked by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI).
“ Of course (it was a tough time), not just physically but mentally. And not just for me, but for my family. I was confident in Tokyo, after qualifying with a decent jump. I didn’t have much expectation of making the podium, but I was confident to make the finals or the top eight. I had issues with Covid-19 and had to take successive vaccinations. That resulted in really bad fitness; I was never able to train fully in those three months. Everything was going south and I was never 100 per cent in my training for the Olympics,” he said.
He also went on to say that since the level of competition in track and field is high, it is tough to be on the podium.
“Be it CWG or Asiad, the quality of jump events is very high. At CWG, there are the Australian, New Zealand and Bahamas guys and winning a medal is not easy. It’s the same with the Asian Games. People had big expectations from us, especially coming from junior events. But we really need to understand that this is a long process and it will take time to get to the top. Track and field events are not participated in by 10-15 countries, but the whole world. It’s not just about getting physically mature but also mentally mature and I’m sure top-level athletes have been through the same phase in their career. Of course we are overwhelmed by the love and support but the process is full of its ups and downs,” he said.
He plans to compete more often on the European circuit and fine-tune himself for the Paris Olympics where he is confident of bagging a medal. “Even If I don’t get it in Paris I am ready to wait another four years after that,” says Sreeshankar. The state’s signature dish that probably originated during Kerala’s sea trade with the Arabian nations will have to wait.