A one centimetre foul, a comeback jump, and a silver: How Murali Sreeshankar won his CWG medal

In what was his best hour on the international stage, long jumper Murali Sreeshankar only traded on small margins. Also at the end of his celebratory round when it was time to neatly fold back the tricolor he had draped around his shoulders. His fingers aligned the widthwise edges perfectly and the tilted chin closed the mid-length as the flag was returned to its storage dimensions, waiting for the next time it would be brought out to signal yet another success.

Unlike the high jump, whose rhythm-searching process can be quite meditative, the long jump works on a single rear view principle that places the push-off foot behind the confines of the board. Sreeshankar went big on his fourth attempt, after finishing sixth in the field with a best of 7.84m after his first three jumps. He would foul his fourth by a minuscule 1cm – caught on the latest technology of a laser beam hitting the invisible overrun. Before that, he jumped to second place in the field, with 8.08 m.

The problem was that Laquan Nairn also had the shots in the 8.08m. The former Bahamas basketball player had only switched to the long jump when an athletics coach approached his grandmother, and she gave him her word and decided his fate as a jumper. โ€œWe don’t count our distances at home in training, we just jump. But I came here for gold,” he would later tell The Indian Express. Sreeshankar would make the 8.08m on his fifth attempt, but crossed the foul line on 6th and had to take home the silver despite achieving gold distance.

Nairn’s second best jump was 7.94m, and as such, Sreeshankar only needed 7.95 for his last attempt for gold on the countback, which he made a mistake. “It’s my first ever global medal, so I’m happy,” the Indian said later, although it would be small to add anything extra as there was a lot more to be won in the future.

Being able to bounce back from that narrowest offense at age 4 โ€“ just 1cm toe sticking out vertically โ€“ was where the Indian’s years of competition experience came in handy. No one who knew Sreeshankar seemed to worry unnecessarily as he made his penultimate and fifth jump that left him in sixth place, way adrift from the podium.

โ€œI was similarly behind in the interstate tournament in Chennai. And my father asked me to remember that incident,’ he said, without ever doubting that he would make the big leap if necessary. It was also well below his personal best. But in this leg of the CWG final, only a medal mattered.

Sreeshankar took names from tournaments where he had finished 4th, 6th or 7th – from the smallest to the World Championships last month, to emphasize why he wasn’t exactly whining about the lost gold. He had been days since the medal eluded him. He’d also missed the last CWG in Gold Coast when he was brought in for emergency surgery for appendicitis, and the silver, with some helpful tailwind, was a more satisfying experience, though it didn’t shine gold.

“I knew it only took one big jump, so I wasn’t worried about the position,” he said later. The technique for this catch-up challenge was learned in the countless domestic and international encounters that Sreeshankar had amassed over the years, despite struggling for the beat during his first few attempts. He spoke of receiving a text from AFI President Adille Sumariwala saying, โ€œNo pressure, no tension. Jump as best you can.’ “I was in this situation to know not to lose hope.”

Reigning Chinese World Champion Wang Jianan had taken his title in his final jump of 8.36, which gave Sreeshankar hope, and perpetuated that with the right process and step by step, anyone could ascend. โ€œHe was 4th in Rio and had bronze in the 2015 World Cup. Talent should be given time to develop,โ€ he repeated. Sreeshankar has taken his time across two worlds and an Olympics to get here, and counted on supporting himself at the next Worlds in Budapest.

South Africans Van Vuluren and Shawn-D Thompson continued to battle over their early jumps of 8.06 and 8.04. But it was to the Indian’s credit that he could summon. The biggie when needed in the end.

Cold, chilly, trouble

Murali Sreeshankar had surpassed qualifying which took place in warm (even hot) daytime conditions, before Birmingham saw another sudden drop in temperature as the evening approached. The cold can wreak havoc on jumpers’ nerves. It’s important to keep warm and keep moving between jumps.

While all the jumpers downplayed the effect of the conditions, it reflected in the further they jumped, beyond the passes and their rhythm, as crossing 8 meters was not exactly satisfactory. In Greece, Sreeshankar recently claimed he did 8.31 metres. Sreeshankar’s first in icy Birmingham was from six inches behind the line. The second Indian in the fray, Anees Muhammad Yahya topped 7.97m, but although the Indians had talked about a pact to win gold-silver for India, the Bahamian would be sauntering with other plans.

While he refocused after the 1cm crossing, Sreeshankar’s own second best of 7.84, after reacting with visible shock to the judges’ verdict, would ultimately yield no gold.

Father’s Sacrifice

Murali Sreeshankar’s father, Murali Sivashankar, had gone on unpaid leave of absence for 240 days, which left him with a backlog of Rs 12 lakh, to focus on his son’s progress after being asked to expel himself from the national camp. to wean. โ€œEveryone told him to change coaches. But I’ve known my boy since the first time I had the baby handed over at Kuttusamy Naidu Hospital in Coimbatore, where he was born!โ€ the passionate father coach argued, “As a family, we decided we wouldn’t stop trying until the medal was won.”

This involved taking care of the frail body as a result of taking two vaccine doses in 21 days after a Covid infection, which severely weakened him. “I knew it would take time, but he was impatient,” said the father.

This waiting for his time also included giving up a medical chair within his reach and relinquishing a first year of engineering, having surpassed the admissions entrances. The sports-mad family smitten by the jumps, although aiming at just one target.

Leading up to the CWG and World’s last month, Sreeshankar had also torn two fingers off his hand – pinky and ring finger, meaning he got into the big encounters with next to none of the upper body work, considering the hand couldn’t be compromised. While the two faults were in the realm of 8.15 and 8.30, which could have earned him gold, they weren’t legitimate jumps, and the 8.08m tie ultimately took him to his dream of a big medal. Aim for gold in future encounters โ€“ Monaco Diamond League and Budapest Worlds, plus Asian Games, will continue, with Neeraj Chopra’s gold giving him hope it’s possible.

There is no lack of hope and the bloody determination to go further than before, here. Like the anthem of the UB40 Games which is cannily included: higher, faster, further, stronger, in an apparent reference to the long jump. For India, a dream that loomed when Murali Sreeshankar was in 6th place stayed alive as he pushed further.

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