Sivasankaran Murali, the coach and father of Commonwealth Games silver medalist long jumper Sreeshankar, is not someone who likes to reminisce about the past. Despite being publicly sacked by the Athletics Federation of India after his son’s poor performance in the Tokyo Olympics, he has no objection.
Just ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Indians were left in trouble after UK authorities refused a visa to Russian jumping coach Dennis Kapustin amid the ongoing war in Ukraine. But Murali, whose name was on the list of individual coaches, went ahead and offered to guide the youth jump contingent, which returned with India’s best medal at the Games.
Tejaswin Shankar, who won India’s first CWG high jump medal, gave coach Murali a warm hug on his victory lap. It was his way of thanking his friend Sreeshankar’s father. Young Shankar was more impressed by the work ethic and enthusiasm of the former triple jumper than by his coaching.
“When I met him in Birmingham, the first thing he told me was this: ‘I don’t know much about the high jump, but I’ll be the first to come to the stadium and the last to go during your competitions. That’s exactly what he did. Done for all jumpers,” says Tejaswin.
That was all the young man needed. His Kansas State University coach Cliff Rovalto was following his leap from a different continent. “Having a familiar face in the crowd makes a big difference. During competitions, your heart beats fast and you need someone to give you some feedback. His presence made a huge difference to me,” admitted the bronze medalist.
During the high jump final, Murali kept a close eye on Tejaswin’s approach before take-off and the mid-mark during the run-up. He had to make sure that Tejaswin cranks up the speed just before take-off to get maximum buy. “I mark my run up midpoint with tape but during the actual jump, you have to calculate in your mind. You cannot keep your eye on the marking. He was there to tell me that I was doing it right,” Tejaswin explained.
Apparently Coach Murali had a big role in the triple jump, a sport he knows as the back of his hand. He was present in all the warm-ups, workouts and competitions.
One or two finishers Aldhos Paul and Abdullah Abubakar already share a good bond with Murali who meets him regularly on the domestic circuit. “He looked after the entire jump squad there. We could approach him for anything at any time. He definitely played a big role in me doing well and winning a medal there,” says Tejaswin.
As far as dismissal and reinstatement are concerned, Murali feels that all’s well that ends well. Those things are now in the past,” he said before leaving for Birmingham.