New Delhi: Murali Sreeshankar was one of the first Indian athletes to seal qualification to the upcoming IAAF World Athletics Championships. The 20-year-old long jumper has crossed the 8m mark three times in his nascent career now, the most recent of which was at the Indian Grand Prix V in Patiala and broke the national record last year. Only five Indians had crossed the 8m-mark before him. Sreeshankar is one of India's brightest prospects in track and field -- an avenue that has recently shown potential for unwarranted hype.
And yet, the ace jumper's feet are firmly on the ground, so much that he says his realistic target is a medal at the 2024 Olympics and not Tokyo 2020.
"I still have a lot of areas to work upon and by 2024 I will be 25. We jumpers tend to get into our peak shape by around that age so in that way 2024 will be the realistic target. If I stay fit and avoid injuries over the next couple of months then I will definitely be aiming for a medal in Tokyo. But the competition there will be really tough," Sreeshankar told IANS.
Sreeshankar doesn't wish to get carried away by the early success he has enjoyed because he has also seen the tough days.
In March 2018, a few days before his participation at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, he was ruled out because of the authorities sending his name late to the Games organisers, Sreeshankar was diagnosed with a ruptured appendix. He had to undergo surgery and spend a few days in intensive care which resulted in him losing a significant amount of body weight. At the 2019 Asian Games that followed, Sreeshankar finished sixth with a best jump of 7.95m.
But the Asiad turned out to be just a stepping stone on his road to recovery and further prominence as it was at the national meet in the month after the Asiad that he broke the national record with an 8.20m leap.
His father S Murali -- who is also his coach, said in February that Sreeshankar will get an 8.50m jump soon, which is well over the 13-year Asian record of 8.48 held by Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Al Khuwalidi. But a heel injury in March put a brief halt to that progress and Sreeshankar says that he is still a fair distance away from getting to a stage where he can challenge the Asian record.
"When my dad said that, I was in much better shape than what I am now. I had a slight mishap because of which I sustained a heel injury," he said.
The injury is behind him now though and he breached the 8m mark once again in the Indian Grand Prix V that was held in Patiala this month. "The target in the World Championships would be to get as close to that mark as possible but the first priority is qualifying for the finals" he said.
Sreeshankar hails from a sporting family -- his father and coach Murali was a leading triple jumper while his mother Bijimol was an 800m runner. How much of a difference does it make to be from a family full of athletes? "My parents know what it takes to excel in the international level also so my father has moulded me in that way. The workload that I have is much lesser than my peers because my father knows that this is important in the long run," he said.
"Whatever I have achieved is nothing. What I do from here until around the next 10 years is what will really count as achievements in my sporting career," he said.
Building the foundation of a succesfull career is what Sreeshankar is looking to do but he hasn't let his education flounder in that endeavour. The 20-year-old is pursuing a BSc in Mathematics in his hometown of Palakkad, Kerala.
He will be participating in the Inter State meet that will be held in Lucknow from August 27 to 30. "I haven't kept any targets for myself there, I am just looking to work on some technical aspects. So it will be like a technical session for me," he said.