NEW DELHI: He could sleep for just three hours after his historic silver-medal feat in Birmingham. He couldn't get time to talk to his mother at length until the day after. But no one in this family of athletes from the Palakkad district in Kerala is complaining. Murali Sreeshankar, the young Olympian in the house, had won his first and the country's maiden Commonwealth Games
(CWG) medal in men's long jump.
"All of us had been waiting for this medal for a very long time." When Sreeshankar mentioned "all", he specifically meant his father and coach, Murali Sivashankar, a former triple-jumper, and mother KS Bijimol, who is a former international 800m runner.
"I was seventh at World Indoors, multiple times sixth in Asian Games and World Junior Championships. So this really means a lot to me," he said, talking to TimesofIndia.com
over the phone from Birmingham.
Had it not been for a controversial foul called on Sreeshankar's fourth-round jump, he would have been wearing gold instead of a silver.
That jump looked close to the 8.20m mark, as Sreeshankar waited nervously to know if the attempt was legal. It was declared a foul, and the margin was ever so little, even looking legal in pictures that circulated on social media soon after. (Photo Source: Twitter)
"I felt really good (about the fourth jump). The entire team was excited about that jump. But when it was ruled invalid, we were like, 'oh, sh**'," he recalled. "It was called foul by the smallest of margins you could ever imagine, but there is no point in saying it now. I am happy that I was able to do a good jump in the fifth round and be on the podium."
On his fifth attempt, Sreeshankar equalled the mark of 8.08m registered by Laquan Nairn of Bahamas. The final ended with both the men on the same mark, which meant Sreeshankar got pushed to the second place on countback. Sreeshankar’s second-best jump in the series was 7.84m, while Nairn’s second-best distance read 7.98m.
But the Indian isn't in a complaining mode, be it luck or the change in rules and introduction of technology by World Athletics last year that possibly robbed him of a gold medal.
"I had been missing out on numerous occasions (on the international stage)," said the 23-year-old national record holder. "Tokyo (Olympics) didn't go as planned. If you ask me, I never had any particular achievement to show to myself or other people. But now I am happy that at least I have a medal and can say that I worked hard all these years for this," he told TimesofIndia.com.
For the benefit of sports fans, Sreeshankar went on to explain the change in rule that has left many athletes unhappy.
"Earlier, the foul board was inclined 45 degrees to the takeoff board. The plasticine was at a particular height above the takeoff board," said Sreeshankar.
A layer of plasticine was placed right after the takeoff board to detect if at the point of takeoff any part of the competitor's foot touched the foul line.
"But now the takeoff board and the foul board are at the same height and there is a horizontal plane in between," he continued. "So instead of 45 degrees, there is a 90-degree plane. So if you have a perfect jump with no centimetre to spare and if the foot crosses the horizontal plane, then it is considered a foul. That's how the new rule is. It has caused a lot of athletes a lot of trouble.
"Even the measuring now is not with tape, it's a photographic measurement. The distance comes automatically on the screen after we have completed the jump," he added.
Rolling back the years to 2018, Sreeshankar couldn't have turned the tide in a better way after surviving life-threatening appendicitis
, so much so that he broke the national record in the same year after missing out on the Gold Coast CWG in order to recuperate.
"That time was very crucial," recalled Sreeshankar.
"I never thought it could be that serious. If the appendix bursts inside the stomach, there is a high chance that a person may die because of the potential infection a ruptured appendicitis may cause. Only after the surgery did I realise that it was quite a serious thing.
"The comeback journey was really tough, of course. I had to miss the (2018) CWG. Due to the infection and poisoning, I suffered a lot and had to go through a lot of pain. Eventually I was able to break the national record (8.20m) that year itself," he further told TimesofIndia.com.
Sreeshankar has gone on to improve his national record twice since then, with an 8.26m jump in 2021 to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics and then improving on that with 8.36m in 2022.
And now he has a CWG silver medal proudly sitting proudly on his chest.
"I would like to take it as a stepping stone or a humble beginning for much more to achieve. I will definitely try to carry forward the momentum I got here for the important tournaments and ultimately towards the Paris Olympics (in 2024)."
From Birmingham, Sreeshankar will be travelling straight to Monaco for the Diamond League, but he doesn't have any targets in mind, especially in terms of achieving a particular mark on the sand pit.
"In terms of distance, I haven't set any specified kind of target. What I am looking at is to maintain consistency."