The country’s top long-jumper M Sreeshankar, after securing 96 per cent in 12th Class, cleared both medical and engineering entrance examinations. However, he opted for B.Sc (Mathematics) since the course allowed him more time to train. Recently, the subject of his choice came in handy as he recalibrated those final strides in the his run-up, the all-important approach before the take-off.
The suggestion came from the Athletics Federation of India’s high-performance director Volker Herrmann who noticed the young jumper ‘over-striding’ during a training session. They were also aware that with the world championship around the corner, the major technical change could prove risky. But Sreeshankar and his father S Murali, who is also his coach, decided to tweak the run-up and are currently spending hours at National Institute of Sports (NIS), Patiala, to perfect it. Later this month, they will be travelling to Doha for the World Championships from September 27 to October 6.
Herrmann gives the reasons for changes in Sreeshankar’s approach. “He has very good run-up speed but he is losing too much momentum because he is over-striding in the last three steps. He will be able to transfer more speed to the take-off board with a slightly shorter run-up and shorter steps”.
Sreeshankar’s last stride was about 6 per cent longer than the average of world-class jumpers, his second last-stride about 10 per cent longer and the third last stride is almost similar.
Sreeshankar simplifies it further. “The total length of my last three strides is 7.6 metres and for world-class jumpers it is about 6.7 metres. If I can reduce it to 7.2 or 7.1 for the world championships it will have a great impact, because if the stride length is reduced I can get more speed on the approach and it will lead to greater increase in the vertical velocity,” he says.
The challenge for the youngster has been to stick to the same number of strides he has always used on the runway, 19, but reduce length. In a short span of just over a month, his run-up has been cut down from 45.70 metres to about 44.50 metres, a reduction of one metre and 20 centimeters. To complement the cutting down on stride length, Sreeshankar has also been working on tweaking his running bio-mechanics and improving core strength. He cautions against any over-the-top expectations from him later this month at Doha.
For Sreeshankar taking Herrmann’s advice will be a leap of faith, more so since he had set the national record of 8.20 metres and booked a World Championship berth following the tried and tested technique that his father taught him since he was a child.
”Sudden huge changes cannot be expected. I have been using my current technique for a long time. If there is a 10 per cent change in technique it will have a huge impact on my jump. A complete perfection (in terms of shorter strides) will be difficult for me at the world championships, but I have already changed about 10 per cent,” he says.
Herrmann too is being patient as he knows when an athlete is trying to change technique there is no quick solution. “We need to be patient with him and also give him enough time. We should not force an athlete into a situation where they feel even more stressed,” Herrmann said.
This year Sreeshankar has been taking it step by step following a heel injury which forced him to miss the Asian Athletics Championships in April. The nearly two-month injury-induced break also occurred when the athlete was consistently jumping 8.20-plus at training, according to Murali. “It took around one-and-a-half months to heal and he had to take complete rest for three months. He was in terrific form at that time,” coach Murali said.
Since then, Sreeshankar has shown signs of progress. At the fifth-leg of the Indian Grand Prix in August, he won gold with a jump of 8 metres. A month earlier in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, he had registered 7.97metres.
A similar jump in the qualifying rounds at the World Championships should help him progress to the final, Murali reckons. At the previous edition, the last four qualifiers — 12 move into the final — jumped between 7.91 metres and 7.96 metres to advance. At the Rio Olympics, 7.85 was good enough to secure the last qualifying place for the final.
Sreeshankar is being realistic before he sets off for Doha. “I am not aiming for any particular distance. After the Asian Games this is my highest competition in the senior category. My aim is to qualify for the final because that will be a huge confidence booster for next year’s Olympics. I don’t have huge expectations like winning a medal.”