Sreeshankar holds the Indian national record (8.2 metres) in the long jump; the 21-year-old long jumper is India’s leading medal prospect at the Tokyo Olympics. If he is able to produce a 8.50m jump, he would be breaking the Asian men’s long jump record of 8.48m, which has been held by Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al Khuwalidi for the last 14 years.
Indian long jump star M. Sreeshankar speaks to Sputnik on a range of issues, including how he kept physically and mentally fit during the COVID-19 induced lockdown. He has until 29 June 2021 to qualify for the Olympics by participating in different competitions in India and abroad.
Sputnik: How has COVID-19 impacted your schedule?
Sreeshankar: Due to COVID, the qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics was suspended several times. I am opening my sporting season with the Indian Grand Prix in the Indian state of Punjab. I am quite optimistic that I will qualify for the Olympics.
I’ve had to reschedule my plans due to corona. I had to participate in many competitions and also the qualifiers. However, due to uncertainties, many events were cancelled. All athletes have had to revamp their training programmes, including me. It was a new situation for all of us. During this time, I worked hard on my strengths and weaknesses.
Sputnik: Do you think this gap year for the Olympics is a boon for athletes?
Sreeshankar: This gap year due to corona was a blessing for me as I did a lot of training. I utilised this gap very efficiently and productively to improve my performance. I trained at home and hopefully this will work in my favour. I maintained my fitness. When the gym facility was restricted in the lockdown, I worked out with my own equipment.
I worked on core strengthening, mobility and the running technique. These are minute factors but they contribute towards a bigger picture during the tournament.
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Sputnik: Your father S. Murali, who himself is a former international triple jumper, is your coach. Is he a strict disciplinarian?
Sreeshankar: The work schedule under him is strict, but I am used to it. He is with me 24×7 and monitors me too. With him being around all the time during the lockdown my training could be planned effectively. He made necessary changes in the training programme whenever needed. He analysed my body conditions every day – that is important too.
My father was an international athlete and used to train under an international coach himself. So, he knows how to prepare for events in times of uncertainty and we started preparing for 2021.
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Sputnik: Can you describe what your fitness regime is like?
Sreeshankar: I train just once a day. I begin at 4.30 am and it lasts till 8.30 am (a 4-hour training programme) and it involves many things. My training is centred on the event that I am participating in. My schedule is divided into three parts — speed, strength and technique and we divide days of the week to work on all of the three aspects.
Fitness always is the primary focus and endurance is always in our plan. So, we have different kinds of exercises to increase metabolic capacity, to increase the heart condition. Our training programme also focuses on recovery to check for injuries. For an athlete, 8 – 10 hours of sleep, hydration and rest are the most important tools to recover.
Sputnik: How disciplined are you about your diet and maintaining your fitness regime?
Sreeshankar: I am a non-vegetarian, but vegetables are an integral part of my diet. My mother, who is also a former international athlete, prepares my diet. I have a personal dietician as well.
I have cheat days too in my meals, as suggested by the nutritionist, as I need to have high calories sometimes. After intensive training, I have a loss of fluids and energy. So, that has to be compensated for through high calorie intake and for this, I prefer a milkshake.
Sputnik: Your personal best record is 8.20 metres, which you achieved in 2018. Do you think achieving 8.22 metres, which is the Olympic qualifying mark, would be tough in the qualifiers?
Sreeshankar: No, 8.22 m which is the cut off for the Olympic qualifier is very easy for me. Things have improved a lot for me now, as compared to 2018. In fact, I believe it is a good time that I break my record of 8.20 m and take it to the next level.
Sputnik: As you’re studying to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, how do you manage both your studies and sports?
Sreeshankar: It is tough for me to manage my education and sports together. I am in my final year of college and it is also the Olympic year. So, my schedule is quite challenging. Earlier, I had missed some exams, as I was participating in the World Championship. But, before beginning my schedule, I have finished all my college exams. I am not sure, but I hope that I will finish graduation this year.
Regardless of anything, my only focus is to jump farther, farther and farther. I am not sure of a career involving Maths, but I am sure I would like to continue in the sports field, as I love it.
Sputnik: You recently quoted wrestler John Cena’s famous lines, “No matter how great the setback, how severe the failure, you never give up. You pick yourself up.” What do these lines mean to you?
Sreeshankar: I have not had a great career so far. I have had many injuries, setbacks too. If you go to a higher level, there are many people who want to bring you down too. To me these lines mean one’s dedication and will power matters and even if there is a setback, just keep going. I am a big World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and John Cena fan so I follow this quote of his.
Sputnik: Which athlete inspires you the most?
Sreeshankar: I am inspired by basketball player Kobe Bryant. Apart from his basketball skills, I really love his attitude towards the game and his incredible work ethics.
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Sputnik: How busy is your sporting calendar for the rest of the year?
Sreeshankar: Before the Olympics, I will be competing in many domestic competitions that includes two competitions being held in the Indian state of Punjab in the next two weeks, after that we have National Championships. After that I have my university competitions followed by some events in Europe. All this will give me the right momentum for Tokyo.