Nitesh Poonia does not talk about the death of his father Dalbir Singh 16 years ago. What the 5’11’ does gather from conversations among village elders in Sardarpura in Rajasthan’s Churu district is that his father was more than six-and-a-half feet tall.
On Sunday, the 17-year-old broke Ashish Jakhar’s U-20 hammer throw national record by more than six metres with a throw of 81.47m at the 34th Junior National Athletics Championship in Ranchi. Nitesh’s national record with a 5Kg hammer also puts him in fourth spot at the world U-18 level, a list topped by Ukrainian Mykhaylo Kokohan, who managed 87.82m in Hungary in July.
After his achievement, Nitesh couldn’t help but recall how he started in the sport. “I was 18 months old when my father died. My mother teaches at a government school and earns Rs 28,000 per month. When I saw some hammer throwers training at the Government High School under coach Jaswant Poonia in Rajgarh, the circle and the technique fascinated me. As I won medals at national level, my training expenses increased and my mother would spend her savings on my younger brother’s education. While my training meant that I would only pass in the exams, this national record with a fourth in the world list will be like getting an A grade to tell my mother,” the youngster told The Indian Express.
Nitesh, fondly called Motiya by coach Poonia for his heavy built, would initially try his hand at running. A year later, he was introduced to a 2kg hammer and the youngster took a liking for the event. He would cross the 50m mark in the school ground with a makeshift cage, smashing an ATM and a motorcycle near the boundary wall of the school with the hammer.
Nitesh won his first gold medal in the U-16 category at the National Junior Athletics championships in Coimbatore with a throw of 66.70m. Next came a silver with a throw of 69.47m at the national Youth Athletics Championships before winning the bronze at the Asian Youth Athletics Championship in Bangkok where he registered 69.76m. “Initially, Jaswant sir would tell me to concentrate on running as I was a bit heavy. That made me develop strength in my lower body which is the key to imparting speed to the hammer. I would watch videos of world record holder Yuriy Sedykh of Russia with my coach to understand his technique. With time, as I grew in confidence with the 3Kg and 5Kg hammer, I would never miss training. When I broke the ATM followed by hitting a motorcycle, coach sahib ne bacha liya warna bahut dant padti,” he recalled.
“Churu district is among the coldest and hottest in India but training in such conditions made me train harder. My favourite thrower has been former world and Olympic champion Sergey Litvinov of Russia and I have modelled my four-turn technique on his action,” shared the youngster.
Last year, Nitesh finished 10th at the World U-18 Championships in Kenya with a throw of 65.79m and won the bronze at this year’s Junior U-20 Federation Cup with a throw of 68.27m.
Coach Poonia believes Nitesh’s biggest strength is his technique. “Initially, Nitesh looked very chubby. But he would always focus on whatever I told him. For one year, he used to compete in running and when I made him do shadow training for the hammer throw, he would do it for hours. We did not have a 2kg hammer initially but some friends and businessmen helped me get them. Nitesh would watch videos on Youtube and the way he releases the hammer with his lower body imparting the impetus helps him a lot,” the 46-year-old said.
At the 2014 Asian Games, Manju Bala, from nearby Chandgothi won the hammer throw bronze medal and Nitesh wants to put his name on the Asian leaderboard in the senior category. “When Manju didi won the medal, it inspired us a lot. I have been training with a 6kg hammer and am eager to compete at the senior level,” shared Nitesh.