Javelin thrower Annu Rani rebounded after an Asian Games meltdown last year and qualified for the Asian Championships as well as the World Championships with a throw that shattered her own national record at the 23rd Federation Cup Athletics Championships. Her fifth throw was measured at 62.34 metres, a turnaround for an athlete who failed to cross 54 meters at the Jakarta Asiad a few months ago. Her previous best was 61.86 nearly two years ago. The period in between has been a forgettable one for the 26-year-old.
She attributes her return to form to a better technique developed using something which is not seen during track and field practice – a golf ball. In November, Baljeet Singh, a veteran javelin coach, started training Annu after she was omitted for the overseas camp in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
Baljeet wasted no time in ironing out flaws in her technique. She was front on, which meant she was not able to rotate her hips freely and it robbed her of power. Also the arm-speed was too slow and the angle of release too high. Baljeet replaced the javelin with a golf ball. The 45 gram ball used on the greens was way lighter than the 600 gram javelin so it allowed for free movement. Annu had to try and stick to a correct technique because controlling the relatively light golf ball is difficult when it is released with the human arm. She also used lighter javelins and at times small iron balls as she strived to find the ideal release movement.
“There are small things which need to be kept in mind. The knees, shoulder, hip and the throwing arm needs to be aligned in a perfect manner. I had the issue of lowering my throwing arm and then almost freezing it before release. This resulted in me unable to use all my power. Actually, power or strength is not an issue for me but it is my technique,” Annu said.
The 2014 Asian Games bronze-medalist admits she got used to her ‘poor technique’ and continued with it not realising how much it could harm her prospects. In October, she was distraught that she gave up the sport briefly. When the elite throwers traveled to Potchefstroom, Annu headed for her home in Bahadurpur in Muzaffarnagar. She didn’t touch a javelin for a month and switched off from the sport. For years she had lived the life of an elite athlete, shuttling between training centres around the year or jostling from on competition to another, like being on a non-stop treadmill. “I don’t remember the last time I had gone home for a festival. So after the Asian Games I took a break and did nothing. There was no festival back then but I just wanted a good break,” Annu says.
When she returned, coach Baljeet eased her into the training routine. Baljeet believes Annu has the ability to throw much better and says patience is the need of the hour. “It is not easy to change an athlete’s technique in a few weeks. I started coaching her in November. She has made progress but now she has to be consistent. She needs time and she will fulfil her potential. She is 26, so she has time,” the coach said.
On Sunday, Annu didn’t look like she would cross the 60-metre mark till her penultimate throw. She started off with 54.67 metres, and followed it up with a ‘foul’, 58.35 before dipping again to 57.91. Her best attempt of the day too could have been better, Annu said. “There is nobody to push me in domestic competitions. There was Suman Devi earlier who was a good thrower, but now I think she has stopped competing. So without good competition, one sometimes tends to take it a little easy.”
Annu hopes that soon she will be able to join the elite throwers at the overseas camp. “I had been promised that if I do well I would be able to travel abroad and train. The best throwers are from Czech Republic and Germany so it would be nice to go there.”
Annu has now set her sights on qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Games, for which a Indian athletes will have to break the national record to make the grade in a number of events. “The qualifying mark for the Olympics is 64 metres. I have been throwing 64 in practice so hopefully, I will be able to replicate it during a competition and make the cut for the Olympic Games.”