With the best effort of 8.36 metres this year, Indian long jumper Murali Sreeshankar is second on the list of top performers this season, which he believes makes him a medal contender at next month’s World Athletics Championships and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham that follow a few days later.
Sreeshankar, who jumped to a distance of 8.36 metres to set a new national record in the Federation Cup in April this year, stands second along with Miltiadis Tentaglou of Greece behind Simon Ehammer of Switzerland (8.45) among the season’s top performers. He also has efforts of 8.31m in Greece in May and 8.23m in Chennai earlier this month.
His confidence sky-high following such performances, Sreeshankar says he is confident of a podium finish at the World Championship in Oregon, USA from July 15-24.
“I have done 8.36m along with Tentaglou while there is an athlete from Switzerland (Simon Ehmmer), who has done 8.45 — he is a decathlete, followed by an athlete from Uruguay (Emiliano Lasa – 8.28m), so I think the competition will be very tough. But I am very optimistic of a medal chance there, and if I perfect rhythm, on which I am working now and which is really coming up, I am sure that I will get the big distance,” Sreeshankar said during an interaction organised by the Sports Authority of India (SAI).
Another reason for his confidence and optimism is a recent training-cum-exposure trip to Greece where he got to train at the Olympic Stadium in Athens along with close rival Tengaglou and also compete in two strong events — winning the gold medal in his first outdoor international event since Tokyo Olympics last year. Sreeshankar came up with a leap of 8.31m — his first 8 metre-plus effort abroad this season. Jeswin Aldrin Johnson, with an 8.23m, is the other Indian to cross 8m repeatedly this season.
In his own words, Sreeshankar, who is coached by his father and has had injury issues a couple of years ago, had a horrible experience at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021 as he could come up with a below-par performance, managing a poor 7.69 to finish 13th in the preliminary round.
It was a shocking performance by an athlete that was considered a sure-shot finalist as he had repeatedly cleared 8m-plus in the build-up.
The 23-year-old from Kerala, who apparently lost his nerves on the big stage, says he has learned a lot from his experience of the Tokyo Olympics, and its aftermath, and believes that has given him the confidence and mental strength to tackle the competition in a better way now.
“I had a bad experience at Tokyo in terms of my performance as I could not achieve what I could and am capable of. I have learned a lot from that horrible experience and am now confident of doing well in the World Championships,” Sreeshankar said.
Sreeshankar, who could not participate in the Diamond League events because of visa issues, said the World Championship is his main priority this season but as the Commonwealth Games are just 10 days later, he hopes to replicate the same performance there and contend for a medal.
“The ideal distance that I would be looking forward to this season would be to better my personal best, that’s the first priority, and bettering my personal best at the biggest stage, the World Championship would certainly be good.
“I am pretty confident of doing my best at the World Championship. The Commonwealth Games are just 10 days apart. So it is not that I will do well in one and very poorly in the other. So, my preparations and performance should be more or less the same and therefore I am hopeful of performing my best at both events,” said Sreeshankar, who had competed at the previous World Championships in Doha in 2019.
Sreeshankar, who had also competed in the World Indoor Championship in Belgrade earlier this year and finished seventh, said these experiences have been invaluable for him. He said he is more confident now because he is more familiar with the field having competed with the same athletes in recent times.
“Olympics and World Championships are big events and it is certainly not that we are not capable of giving our best there. It’s just the pressure and we have to adjust to it. I am pretty sure that step by step I am coming up with all the experience I am getting,” said Sreeshankar.
The long-jumper thanked Olympic gold medallist javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra and hockey bronze medallist PR Sreejesh for helping him recover from his Tokyo debacle.
Sreeshankar said both of them have had a great influence on him and hopes to gain from their experience and win medals at major events just like them.