Until last year, 18-year-old long jumper Sreeshankar did not have permission to use the social media. The Kerala jumper, who missed the Athletics Federation of India guideline by just a whisker at the Federation Cup, says staying away from social networking sites is just small “sacrifice” he takes to ensure his attention towards sports does not sway.
A second-year engineering college student in Palakkad district of Kerala, sports was a natural choice. He did not have to look far for inspiration as dad Murali was a proficient triple jumper and mother Bijimol was an 800m runner.
The wiry-framed athlete began as a sprinter before he took the jump event when he was around 13. The reason for not choosing his dad’s discipline was simple. “Triple jump is an injury-prone discipline. In my career, I have suffered so many injuries. It’s a very technical sport and if you get something wrong, you’ll get injured,” father Murali explained while Sreeshankar nodded incessantly.
At the recently-concluded Federation Cup in Patiala, Sreeshankar made a jump of 7.99m, just a centimetre short of the CWG qualifying norms. The moment the distance was announced he rushed towards the referee to ask him how far from the line did he take off.
The long jumper was told his last step fell about 20cm behind the take-off board, robbing him off an 8m-plus jump. In the process, he crossed the junior national mark of 7.94m though. “I didn’t even expect to make such a good jump. But when I realized that I had come so close I felt very disappointed for a second. But that was momentarily. In sports you can’t keep pondering over missed chances ,” Sreeshankar said.
Shankar, who loves spending his limited free time with friends, was allowed to join Facebook and use whatsapp after he turned 18. “I am not allowed to join Instagram as yet,” the articulate athlete said.
At home, there is a strict “no television after 11” rule that applies for all the members of the family. He follows a strict training and study regimen and is one of the brightest students in college. His dad proudly lists out his scores in 10th and 12th grade, all above the 95% mark. At college he has topped the first semester as well.
“Many of my friends who were in athletics with me are jobless now. He has to focus on studies as well to ensure a secure future. This is how it works in India,” Murali, who is also Shankar’s coach said.
National jump coach Bedros Bedrosian predicts Sreeshankar will be easily jumping in the 8.10m-plus range in a year. But for that he needs to work on certain areas. “He has to add muscle in his legs. He has a good technique and has a powerful thrust in his take off and maintains a good angle in his jumps but needs more speed in his run-up,” the Romanian coach says. “Most importantly he’s smart. Jumping is not all about the legs you have to use your head too,” he added.
Sreeshankar very recently made a major change to his technique at coach Robert Bobby George’s advice who has been observing him since the last three years. Robert, who coached Anju Bobby George to a Worlds bronze, suggested the youngster to switch from the hang technique to the hitch-hike technique where the jumper completes a cyclic kick motion while airborne.
“His dad is avery good friend and his mom is very close to Anju. I felt that he should adopt the hitch-hike technique which most top jumpers of the world employ. I;m glad he’s benefitting from it.” Robert said.
Robert firmley believes Sreeshankar is the next big jumper and is a sure-shot medal prospect at the Asian Games, where the silver medal went for 7.90m in the last edition.
Shankar’s main target this year is the u-20 Worlds at Finland in July. He has achieved the qualifying mark (7.55m) for the event by the virtue of his 7.72m jump at the junior nationals in November. “I want to win the gold at the Worlds!”
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