Murali Sreeshankar became the second Indian male to win a long jump medal at the Commonwealth Games, with Suresh Babu’s bronze from 1978 being the first, as he bagged the silver medal in the men’s long jump final in Birmingham on Thursday.
Sreeshankar, who was a firm pre-event medal favourite, had a best jump of 8.08m, the same as gold-medal-winner Laquan Nairn from the Bahamas, with Nairn winning on account of having the better second-best jump (7.98 vs 7.84). India’s Muhammad Anas Yahiya, the other Indian in the fray, recorded a best of 7.97m to finish fifth.
Sreeshankar, who was the only athlete to cross the 8m mark in the qualifying round, began the evening with a modest 7.60m. His second was a tad better – 7.84m.
His third jump looked promising as he carried the momentum past the take-off board and to the naked eye it seemed like he had crossed the 8m mark, but the jump was measured at 7.84m – the same as his second attempt.
Sreeshankar was left dumbfounded but could do nothing about it since the measurements were done via laser.
If you thought this was where the drama ended, it was in fact just getting started. Sreeshankar’s fourth jump looked like his best of the evening and he was convinced it was well past the 8m mark. But as fate would have it, he’d over-stepped the take-off board. By how much? One centimeter. You read that right, one centimeter.
A novel feature at the Commonwealth Games is that the athletes are allowed to watch a replay of their jump and see how much they’ve overstepped the board via a video device held by an official seated pit-side.
Sreeshankar ran to the official to catch a replay and was stunned. He’d gone past the board by the smallest, cruellest of margins and raised his hands in despair. “It was one millimeter!” he gestured to his father, Murali, in the stands.
The Indian pulled himself together to bring the goods when it mattered the most: jump five. He went well past the 8m mark but as the drama would have it, it took the officials a good minute before they announced the result.
Sreeshankar’s right hand went up the second the result was made public – a trademark gesture when the measurement is good – 8.08m it was. The massive jump meant he now jumped, literally, to the second spot. Bahamas’ Laquan Nairn, who also jumped 8.08m, remained on the top spot since he had a better second-best jump.
Needing a jump of 8.08m or more in his final attempt, Sreeshankar seemed to have gone past the mark yet again but off went the red flag: foul.
Sreeshankar, though, was a happy man. He had finally medalled in a top-level international event. He ran to his father+coach in the stands, hugged his family and took off with the Indian flag. Not before kneeling down and kissing the track.
The 23-year-old from Palakkad in Kerala culled his way from the middle of the pack and leapt to silver in a drama-filled final. One jump at a time.