The 2019 Athletics World Championship kicks off in Doha on Friday with M. Sreeshankar (Long Jump), the only Indian athlete participating on the opening day, eyeing a career-defining jump to get him into the finals of the event. Sreeshankar is the current national record holder at 8.20m.
As the Athletics World Championships begin in Doha on Friday, not much is expected out of the Indian contingent. The buzz is predictably non-existent given the absence of arguably the sole world-class athlete the country can boast of at the moment, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra. There is no Hima Das or Tejaswin Shankar either. But away from those big names, there is another youngster who caught the eye of the country at the Asian Games last year, 20-year-old M Sreeshankar, India’s current national record holder in long jump at 8.20m.
Not many will remember his mark of 7.95m from that night at the Asian Games but it is not easy to forget the moment when he looked into the camera after his final jump and said: “I’ll be back!”
With a splash of arrogance that helps good young athletes become better, he endeared himself to Indian fans who were watching. A few weeks later, he broke the national record with an 8.20 jump at the 58th National Open athletics championships in Bhubaneshwar.
“Picking up the form I lost because of injury, hopefully things will fall in place soon,” Sreeshankar told Scroll.
“We have made some tweaks in my training plan. I am focussing more on the technique right now, it was shattering a bit after my injury. We (his dad and himself) have been working with High Performance Director Volker Herrmann. My runway is not proper, and my approach gives me trouble always. These days we are mainly working on drills for correcting my running techniques."
The Kerala youngster was sent on a European exposure trip to France, Denmark, and England recently by JSW Sports. He was fascinated with the experience of taking part in global events.
“I got the taste of events work there and it was a great experience to compete with those jumpers. The atmosphere of an event is completely different there. There were fans coming to get autographs from athletes, like they would do with cricketers here, And the prize money was sizeable too, it was all a new experience for me.”
Sreeshankar is now ready for his first taste of senior World Championships. In the absence of star compatriots, fanfare, and even hope, on Friday, Sreeshankar will kick-start India’s campaign in the qualification round of the men’s long jump on the opening day in Doha. The automatic qualification mark for the finals has been set at 8.15m (though jumpers below this mark will also be able to advance if enough athletes do not cross the cut-off distance to make the 12 finalists).
“My main focus is to be in the finals of the Worlds,” he said, that confidence in the tone once again striking. “It will be huge for my career if I can qualify; it will be a stepping stone to me for Tokyo,” Sreeshankar concluded.