At the mere age of 19, long-jumper Sreeshankar Murali broke the national record at the 8th National Open Athletics Championships in Bhubaneshwar with a jump of 8.20m. Moments after the massive milestone, the Kerala athlete was seen being hurled by his father at the podium. The moment, Sreeshankar believes was one of the best ones he has shared with his father.
“The one special memory that we have together is the day when I broke the national record in the long jump. That day, I remember I was not physically well to compete because I had heat stroke issues the previous day. And the technique of my jumps was really bad as I was barely able to stand up,” he tells Hindustan Times in a telephonic conversation.
S. Murali, Sreeshankar’s father, who was an international triple-jumper himself, has been with Sreeshankar throughout his young athletics career. He has coached the long jumper himself since he started developing interest in the sport. On that hot Thursday, September morning in Bhubaneswar, Murali told his son to make some technical adjustments that helped him break the national record.
“My father just told me let’s go to the ground. We’ll see what happens. He made minute technical corrections in my jumping approach, and it proved to be the key reason why I was able to get the national record,” Sreeshankar says.
“When it comes to the competition area, he is the kind of mastermind with all the technical knowledge he knows. He adjusted everything so that I could click the right jump at the right place. That was quite pivotal,” he further adds.
Sreeshankar, now 21, has been training for the past few months under his father at his hometown in Palakkad, Kerala, amid the nationwide lockdown in place due to Covid-19 pandemic. With a limited set of equipment available, the father-son duo worked on Sreeshankar’s core strength and mobility training.
“During the lockdown time, the main training we focused on were strength training, core strengthening, and mobility aspects. We could shift all the weight training equipment from our track to our homes. I also got a small stretcher space at my home, so that I can have my workouts in a proper way,” he says.
“The only thing that was lacking was the technical aspects regarding the jumps and the jump training, and the speed-related jumps training.”
The long jumper, who is heavily seen as a medal prospect for India by the 2024 Olympics, recalls that it was his parents, who got himself interested in track-and-field. Sreeshankar belongs to a family of athletes. His mother K. S. Bijimol was an 800m sprinter, and his sister Sreeparvathy is a heptathlete.
“It was through my father and mother I developed an interest in track and field sport. As a young kid, he used to take me to the ground, I used to enjoy playing with him and running with him. So I gradually developed an interest in track-and-field sport, more than anything else,” he says.
“Being a former international triple jumper, he trained under many coaches all across the country, and several coaches abroad. So, he knows what it takes to develop an athlete in a proper way. He has been building the foundational blocks of my training gradually year-by-year,” Sreeshakar adds.
But having a father as your coach is not always easy. A coach’s job also requires being a taskmaster, and tough love is a concept Sreeshankar has got used to when he trains with his father. “Having my father as a coach is also one of the challenging aspects of my sporting career. He’s always there with me 24X7. He knows what and all I eat, how much I sleep, who are my friends, or with whom I am mingling with. He always makes sure I don’t get distracted by anything around me which takes my attention away from my training or the sport itself,” he says.
Sreeshankar believes that his father’s commitment towards building a sense of dedication and discipline in him has helped him excel in his career at a young age. “He makes sure I get proper rest before training and proper recovery after every training. He is quite strict with all the routine. He always maintains that the strict regime is necessary to achieve success because, without dedication and discipline, you cannot achieve success in any sport. Whenever it comes to training, it is always a coach-athlete relation, rather than a father-son relation. He is tough with me, strict with me, but I feel that is required for an athlete to excel at a higher level,” he says.
When Sreeshankar has a bad day on the track, or at training, he often turns to his father for advice, who tells him to trust the process and move on. “Whenever I have a bad day, he would tell me about the mistakes I made before or during the competition. He tells me how I can rectify them, and I have to move past that bad day. This advice works quite positively as my father takes all the negativity away from me,” he says.
As Sreeshankar is planning to compete in the athletics tournaments as soon as the competition begins for Tokyo Olympics qualification, he says that he could not have achieved the level of success he has if not for the sacrifices made by his father.
“He would not attend any college, or school reunion, or any family gathering. He says that he has to be there with me at all my training sessions and cannot miss any of it. That is the level of commitment and dedication that he has towards my career,” Sreeshankar says.
“Whether it is training at 12 PM at noon, or at 9 PM at night, he is always there with me. When I was in school, and my schedule was getting hectic, he would help me out with the school work so that my load is reduced. He would drop me to school, pick me up from school, drop me to the ground… do whatever it takes so that I remain fit and healthy. He has dedicated his life towards me and my sister so that we do well as athletes, as well in academics,” he signs off.