India’s next-in-line javelin throwers eager to emulate Neeraj Chopra’s feats
Sahil Silwal could sense a surge in interest in his javelin competition at the National Open meet in Warangal last September. He wasn’t surprised. Neeraj Chopra’s gold at the Tokyo Olympics the previous month had already turned javelin a glamorous discipline in India.
Silwal was India’s third best thrower last year (personal best of 80.65m at Indian Grand Prix 3), behind Chopra (88.07) and Shivpal Singh (81.63), who too competed in Tokyo. The 21-year-old from Bhiwani, Haryana won the title in Warangal with a throw of 77.79.
Another youngster who had a breakout season last year is Yashvir Singh. In the January U-20 Federation Cup, he broke Chopra's meet record of 76.91m with an effort of 78.68m. He then came second to Chopra in the senior Federation Cup. Chopra, building up for Tokyo, threw 87.80m and Singh, 20, a personal best 79.31m.
After a string of felicitations prevented Chopra from participating in any post-Olympics events, he has returned to training. He is getting ready for a packed year at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Centre in California. While his return to action is eagerly awaited, the progress of Silwal, Yashvir and a few other throwers, now in the national camp at the National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala, will also be closely tracked.
New coach, new bunch
Among the others at the national camp are Rohit Yadav, who set a U-18 national record of 81.75m in 2019, Arshdeep Singh (PB 77.37) and Abhishek Drall (75.20). Adding to the depth in the discipline are Kunwer Ajay Raj (76.67m) and Jay Kumar (72.29), who competed at the U20 World Championships in Kenya, and DP Manu (76.30m), who consistently threw over 75m last season and was second at the National Open championships with 74.92m. Not to forget 26-year-old Shivpal, the Asian championships silver medallist with a personal best of 86.23m.
A series of domestic events will help them gear up for the year’s two major competitions—
Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. Those in the national squad will train under Finnish coach Kimmo Kinnunen—a former world champion who is among the few to go past 90m. Kinnunen had replaced Germany’s Uwe Hohn while Chopra continues under Klaus Bartonietz.
“Neeraj has set the benchmark high for everyone,” says Silwal. “The national mark was a little over 80m for six-seven years until Neeraj came and changed everything. Neeraj’s feat of going beyond 85m suddenly has changed everyone’s mindset. Now you know you have to go past 85m to stake a claim for international medals.
“Among the current lot, we can see two-three throwers going beyond 85m by 2024,” says Silwal, who has been training alongside Chopra for the last couple of years, including exposure tours abroad. Silwal doesn’t mind the extra attention.
“Yes, there is a lot of focus on javelin throwers after Neeraj, but that doesn’t put me under any pressure. I have been working with a target in mind. My next target is 82m in the new season,” says Silwal, who came fourth at the 2018 U-20 world championships.
Chopra’s Olympic gold, coaches feel, has changed mindset of Indian athletes. Samarjeet Singh Malhi, a former international and a national coach in Patiala, believes the Chopra effect will help Indian javelin throwers prosper.
“They are getting a lot of motivation from Neeraj. When you know that one among you is an Olympic Champion, it helps break the mental barriers. They are getting the best of facilities in terms of training, equipment and nutrition. There is a system in place and we will get good results,” says Malhi.
It is remarkable that Chopra became Olympic champion at 23, though the work is cut out for the rest to reach that range before the 2024 Paris Games. Chopra crossed 75m a month shy of 17, and went beyond 80m days after he turned 18. Seven months later, he rustled up a junior world record throw of 86.48m at the IAAF World U-20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, announcing his arrival at the international stage.
At the inter-university meet this month, three throwers went beyond 75m—Vikrant Malik (77.82), Yashvir (77.76) and Ajai Raj (76.67). Chopra’s 2015 meet record though is 81.04m. “It takes a lot of training and hard work to improve and the current lot is in the right direction. It’s a matter of time before they go past 80m,” says Malhi.
Kashinath Naik, the 2010 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist and now an Army coach, concurs. He is confident that more domestic competition will speed up the progress of juniors.
“There are six-seven juniors in the same range close to 80m. If they are consistent, they have the talent to do well for India. They need to keep themselves injury free and train,” said Naik, who coaches Manu.
The priority this year for Silwal and others will be to achieve the qualifying standards for CWG (76.99m) and Asian Games (79.81m).