Mumbai, Sep 20 The 2022 season has been a great one for Indian long jumper Murali Sreeshankar as he bagged his first major medal at the senior level — a silver in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last month.
The 23-year-old from Kerala now wants to end the season on a good note by winning gold at the 36th National Games starting in a few days in Gujarat.
It will be Sreeshankar’s first experience of the National Games and the national record holder in men’s long jump is looking forward to doing his best in Ahmedabad where athletics competitions will be held.
When the National Games were last held in 2015 in his home state of Kerala, Sreeshankar was in the 11th standard and witnessed the event as a spectator. The festive atmosphere, the packed galleries at the athletics competition in Thiruvanathapuram, and the adulation that was showered on the athletes remained ingrained in his memory.
Seven years on, Sreesankar now gets a chance to relive the event as a competitor, and as a huge star at that and is quite excited at that prospect.
“I am very excited about participating in the National Games for the first time and I’m looking forward to the same kind of atmosphere (we had in Kerala). I am sure that Gujarat will be hosting it in the most befitting manner because the government has announced that Gujarat will be the sporting capital of India. It’s also the first time I will be competing in Gujarat,” Sreeshankar said during a Zoom interaction with the media on Tuesday.
The 23-year-old native of Palakkad, who is coached by his father S Murali, said he has prepared well for the National Games.
“I am prepared well, my body is feeling good, and I have set a target for this competition and want to finish the season on a good note.
“If I do so, I will be able to set in motion a few plans for the 2023 season that will be crucial to my preparations for the World Championships and Asian Games,” he opined. The qualification period for Paris 2024 will be in full flow next year and gaining early momentum will be a big help.
Sreeshankar, who set his own national long jump record thrice and has a personal best of 8.36m, refuted the notion that the National Games would be a cakewalk. He pointed out that there are three jumpers with leaps of over 8.15 and therefore he would be treating this outing as a world-level tournament.
Sreeshankar, who won the silver medal in Birmingham 2022 with a leap of 8.08m, will be facing stiff competition from the likes of his statemate Mohammed Anees Yahiya, who finished fifth in the Commonwealth Games, and Tamil Nadu’s Jeswin Aldrin, who in fact has a wind-assisted leap of 8.37 m.
In reply to a question, Sreeshankar, who had made it to the long jump final at the World Championships in Oregon, said that the extensive travelling, adjusting to different climatic conditions, dealing with travel fatigue, jet lag, and competing with the world’s best was a “good learning experience”.
He was also most happy with the rise in his world rankings from the 60s at the start of the season to 6th. He acknowledged that the challenge now is to build up and find consistency on the national circuit and in international competition.
“To get there to the top will be difficult but I’m sure it’s very much possible if we have more international exposure in competitions like World Athletics Championships, continental events and the Diamond League,” he explained.
The 23-year-old long jumper said it feels the same taking part in a National Games or a national championship in Kerala colours. But he emphasised it will always be a matter of pride when he wears Kerala colours. He is looking forward to the prospect of meeting two fellow athletes from God’s own country — badminton star and recently married H.S Prannoy (whom he has not met before) as “he was our hero at the Thomas Cup”. And he would like to renew his acquaintance with Sajan Prakash, the best male athlete of the 2015 Games, who will be spearheading the Kerala challenge.