Explained: Would long jumper Sreeshankar have won an Olympic medal with his 8.26 metre jump?

Long jumper Sreeshankar Murali qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with a 8.26 metre jump.

Long jumper Sreeshankar Murali qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with a 8.26 metre jump. The Kerala athlete is the only Indian long jumper to have made the cut for this year’s Games so far.

What was Sreeshankar’s previous best?

The 21-year-old’s previous best was 8.20m, the old national record, set in 2018 at the Open Athletics Championships held in Bhubaneshwar. On his return to competition last month, he managed to go past the 8m-mark at the Indian Grand Prix (IGP).

Where does Sreeshankar’s jump stand at the Asian level?

Sreeshankar’s jump would have earned him gold in any of the previous editions of the Asian Games as the meet record stands at 8.24 m set by China’s 2015 Worlds bronze-medal winner Wang Jianan. Sreeshankar’s record-breaking effort also puts him on top of the list of best jumps in Asia. However, this assumption comes with a rider – when it comes to big finals, like the Asian Games, jumpers who handle the pressure better end up on the podium.

Has Sreeshankar arrived on the big stage?

By his admission, ‘no’. Although his jump puts him atop the table with two others who have leapt the same distance, the athletics circuit is yet to open up fully. The table will eventually change. His jump at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala would have earned him the fourth spot at the Rio Olympics and a silver medal at the London Olympics. But numbers can be deceptive and Sreeshankar agrees. “The conditions in London were very different. It was really cold. If I was competing in that weather I would have not even crossed 8.20m. So to say that I could have medalled just based on my distance here is not a sound analysis,” Sreeshankar said.

How was Sreeshankar’s approach different on Tuesday?

Despite having a fluid technique and consistently landing clean jumps, the athlete was frustrated about not getting that ‘extra momentum’ in his jump. “My father told me I was scared. I was scared to attack the board. But this time I took that fear out from the first jump itself,” explained Sreeshankar.

The young man could do no wrong on Tuesday. His outing at Patiala was special because he crossed the 8-metre mark, a coveted benchmark in India, five times – 8.02, 8.04, 8.07, 8.09 and 8.26 metres. His fifth jump was four centimetres more than the Tokyo Olympics qualifying mark of 8.22m.

What changes did he make to break the national record?

Most long jumpers are great sprinters too and Sreeshankar is no exception. The BSc Mathematics student realised during the second IGP last month, held at the same venue, he had cut his run-up distance, reducing his pace. On Tuesday, Sreeshankar increased his run-up by a metre and a half. “More distance means more speed in my run-up. When I came here for the previous competitions I realised I had reduced my run-up compared to what I did in practice back home. Today I pushed back the marker and it helped.”

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