In the first such move of its kind, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has decided to relocate a national camp coach to an athlete’s hometown in Kerala to facilitate training and ease the teenage long-jump prodigy’s concern about “college attendance”.
At a recent AFI meeting, it was decided that national jump coach Bedros Bedrosian, a Romanian, will move to Sreeshankar Murali’s hometown in Palakkad to focus on him and another long jumper Neena Varakil. Since the facilities in Palakkad are inadequate, the federation is in discussions to set up a facility for the youngsters.
“We decided during our committee meeting that Sreeshankar’s studies should not be affected. We see him as a potential medal winner at the Tokyo Olympics (2020) and decided to assign Bedrosian to him. He will be travelling to Sreeshankar’s hometown, and we are in talks for setting up facilities for them to train. This will ensure his studies don’t get affected and he trains regularly. We have done well at the Asian level but it’s not enough. We need to compete at the world level,” AFI president Adille Sumariwalla told The Indian Express.
The AFI has also decided to rope in more coaches, including Bedros’s replacement, for the various national camps. “We are in the process of signing up coaches from Cuba and New Zealand to enable our athletes to continue their evolution as top-class competitors. We are sure we will have them in place before the end of the first camp after the Asian Games,” Sumariwalla said.
Sreeshankar gave up an engineering course and opted for a B.Sc in Maths at Palakkad’s Victoria College to focus on jumps. “I am really glad that the federation is willing to set up a facility in Palakkad for us. I am happy that Bedros sir will be coming to monitor us but I will continue to train directly under my father,” Sreeshankar, 19, said.
Sreeshankar’s father Murali was an international triple jumper while mother K S Bijimol is an 800m Asian junior medallist. Murali says he is relieved that his son will not have to worry about “college attendance”.
“Education is really important. This move will ease his concern because they are very strict about attendance here. They don’t allow you to write your exams if you don’t have a certain percentage of attendance. He can now focus on training without worrying about college,” Murali said.
Sreeshankar has seen a lot of highs and lows this year. He missed the Commonwealth Games due to an appendix rupture that kept him in the ICU for three days. “I felt all my energy was sapped. I couldn’t even complete my warm-up rounds, let alone jumping. I lost a lot of strength in my legs but I had my father pushing and supporting
Long Jumper Can’t Miss College For Camp, So Coach Will Come Home me. I never lost hope,” he said.
Sreeshankar returned to the circuit with an Asian Juniors Athletics Championship bronze in June. He underlined his potential at the recent Nationals in Bhubaneswar, where he rewrote the national mark with a leap of 8.20m.
Although he is still some distance from being a world-beater, Sreeshankar has age and a calm mentality on his side. “He’s a fast learner. Last year, I suggested to his father a major technical tweak and you can see how quickly he has picked it up. He is a medal prospect, no doubt,” said Robert Bobby George, coach and husband of Anju Bobby George, the only Indian athlete to win a medal at the World Championships.