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Damneet Singh Mann would barely stay indoors whenever he returned home from national camps. He would instead sneak out and spend hours at the Baba Kala Mehar Singh Stadium in Barnala where his his childhood coach Dr Sukhraj Singh would fine-tune whatever he would learn in Sonepat.
During his last visit before leaving for the World U-18 Championships in Nairobi, though, Mann was faced with a peculiar problem. Heavy rains had lashed the city and the stadium was ankle-deep in water. With nowhere else to train in the district, the academy’s 21 trainees of the Batth Hammer Throw Academy and the coach created a temporary platform using sand just so that Mann could train.
Even in those challenging conditions, Mann threw a distance of 74.29m, almost 2m more than his personal best. It, of course, did not count since it was just a training session.
On Friday, he did it again. That, too, on a much-bigger stage. Mann threw the 5kg hammer to a distance of 74.20m to win the silver medal. This was India’s first medal of the event. Mann’s best effort came in his first attempt in the final, which saw Ukraine’s Mykhalo Khokhan win the gold medal with an effort of 82.31m.
Mann’s previous best was 72.75m, which he recorded at the National Youth Athletics Championship in Hyderabad in April. It was also the season’s best effort in India in the U-18 age group while the fourth-best in the world, behind Khokhan, Bohdun Potrus of Ukraine (75m) and China’s Qi Wang (75.31m).
“When he came from the national camp during the break, he threw 74.29 at the stadium here in Barnala. Because of the heavy rains, we had to make a temporary platform to help him prepare for the World Championships,” Sukhraj told The Indian Express.
Mann adds: “The conditions suited me. I wanted to aim for my personal best in the first attempt, which I did. That took some pressure off.”
Mann joined the Batth academy in 2012 where he and eight others would be trained by Sukhraj, a former Punjab coach. Unlike others, though, Mann would accompany his coach to the local iron and steel workshop to get hammer wires and personalised hammers of different weights.
Sukhraj would get different pulley systems at Mann’s residence, where he would make the youngster train according to different hammer weights. “We would get hammers ranging from 3kg to 6kg.
These were made at local foundries. Each wire would cost us Rs 80. The athletes and coaches would generate the funds themselves. We also got the hammer throw cage made from our own expenses,” Sukhraj says.
Mann’s personal best with a 6kg hammer came in January at Pune, where he threw 65.29m. In April, Mann would achieve his personal best in 5kg hammer throw with a 72.75m followed by a silver medal winning throw of 70.29m at the Asian Youth Athletics Championship in Thailand in May.
His next target is to cross the 80m mark. “He got the posters of Russian Yuriy Sedykh, who holds the world record mark of 86.74m, and Japan’s Koji Murofushi. He aspires to cross 80m and this medal will spur him to do well,” adds Sukhraj.