The year is 2018. Sreeshankar Murali, who is all set to take part in the Commonwealth Games in Australia hits a roadblock in the form of appendicitis. “Shanku was in his prime, a gold medal was assured in the games. We found out the appendix was ruptured only after the operation. It was really unexpected.” KS Bijimol, Shanku’s mother and a silver medalist at 1992 Youth Asian Games says, recalling the day of the surgery. What followed was a string of poor performances across competitions, including the 2019 Asian games and World Youth championships. However, the setbacks could not rupture Sreeshankar’s confidence. Later that year, the athlete from Kerala set a new national record at the Federation cup, with a jump of 8.20 metres.
Fast forward three years later. In 2020, when different variants of a deadly pandemic engulf the world. The Olympics, a dream Sreeshankar has been eyeing for a long time, was marred by uncertainty. The first leg of the Indian Grand Prix, a qualification event for the Olympics, was cancelled at the last moment and the Federation cup, postponed. “A painful wait,” as Sreeshankar calls it. In March 2021, he bettered his previous record by clinching gold with a jump of 8.26 in the postponed federation cup. “I try to do my best every time I make a jump, it does not matter to me if people are disappointed in their expectations of me, I am happy if I do my personal best. In fact, I am getting to know people say such things only when you tell me.” he said, with a wry smile.
While speaking to DT Next, Sreeshankar said that the lockdown was a “blessing in disguise” which helped him focus more on the shortcomings and build mental and physical strength. “The unexpected lockdown and postponement of games were difficult but we arranged equipment and built a home gym. I could also use the state facilities with the help of government support. I feel I am better in 2021 than last year,” he said.
Sreeshankar’s close circle believes that it is this ability to find hope in adverse situations which played a crucial role in his success today. He started off as a sprinter during his school days, before his father and former Asian games medalist S Murali diverted him to long jump.
Rugmini Menon, English teacher at Kendriya Vidyalaya Kanjikode is proud at every mention of her student’s name. “He was a very modest yet mischievous student. At our facilitation ceremony, he seemed very mature, motivating and inspiring the juniors. We could not hold it in a grand manner due to Covid-19 restrictions but are already planning for a welcome once the games conclude.”
She added that the qualities that Sreeshankar possessed are seldom seen in youngsters these days. “Sreeshankar’s modesty and humbleness are really something that the students here look up to, we call him Sreeshankar Etta.” she said, indicating his brotherly figure in the district.
British Association for Sustainable Sport (BASIS) issued a report titled ‘Rings of Fire: How Heat Could Impact the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.’ investigating the temperature concerns. Sreeshankar does not take this much into consideration. “Most of my practice was in 45 degrees celsius in a humid Patiala, and coming from Palakkad, I don’t think the ‘Rings of Fire’ are a problem. The expected temperature in Japan is around 35 degree celsius. Athletes from Europe and colder areas might get troubled by the climate. I don’t think it will be important for us.”
With only a day left for the biggest sporting spectacle to kick off, Sreeshankar is as calm as ever as he signs off, “The Olympic board members, athletes, coaches have all taken the Covishield vaccine and the general mood of the camp is excellent.”