The sun almost went down and no standout performance was in sight during the first leg of the Indian Athletics Grand Prix. Several known names had decided to give the event a miss and new faces had little to offer. It seemed the domestic season opener would turn out as what most athletes called it, “just an event to practice out preparedness”.
But 29-year-old javelin thrower Devender Singh had other plans. The armyman showed he was more than prepared to make a big mark with a massive throw of 84.57 metres that earned him the Grand Prix gold, and more importantly, a spot at the London World Championships to be held in August. Samarjeeth Singh (76.85m) and Rajender Singh (76.30) finished distant second and third respectively. The qualification mark for the London event stands at 83 metres. Devender will join Neeraj Chopra, who has already qualified for the event.
The moment the spear left Devender’s arm, he knew how far it was heading. He celebrated the throw with a fist pump, a few poses flexing his muscles for the local photographers and waved at his supporters, mostly national campers, before muttering a few cuss words in Punjabi in excitement.
It was an achievement to savour for the Sikh regiment junior commissioned officer. It was the first time his father had witnessed him in action. Major Singh has travelled from his village in Jalandhar district. He knows little about his son’s vocation but that has never stopped him from supporting his endeavours.
“My father has backed me to the hilt. Despite being a farmer, he’s done the best he could for me. And to see him today at the event makes me feel so glad,” Devender told The Indian Express.
Devender has had to struggle a lot to reach this far. About six months ago, he says he was asked to join coach Garry Calvert’s camp in Bangalore. But Devender refused as he preferred to train under coach Kashinath Nayak in Patiala. “I did not want to train under Calvert and so was thrown out of the camp. I was forced to rent a house near NIS and shell out Rs 15,000 a month,” he says.
Not being a national camper came as a huge impediment to Devender’s aspirations. He says he had to, “at times, train at 4 pm under the scorching sun as only the campers would train at the facilities at 6”.
“It was not only a financial but mental struggle as well. I could not understand why someone with so much potential was not accommodated in the camp. All my salary was spent on my training. A few good souls came up to help me, or else it would have been curtains for me.”
Devender had an inclination towards sports as a kid. He tried his hand at kabaddi, cricket before settling for athletics. His first tryst with the javelin came when a teacher at school asked him to try throwing a wooden javelin during a physical training class. “I have taken up the sport ever since.”
He had been a regular at the national camp since 2011 until the “Calvert episode” unfolded. The foreign coach has already put in his papers and is heading to China for his next assignment after a fallout with the federation.
Devender has now set his sights on the Federation Cup in June in the Capital. The event will also serve as a selection trial for the Asian Athletics Championships to be held in the second week of July in Bhubaneswar.
But before that, the other two legs of the Indian Grand Prix will be conducted. Both in Delhi on May 11 and 15.
MR Poovamma, who had missed the first two legs of the Asian Grand Prix due to visa issues, had no difficulty in winning the 400m event. She finished with a timing of 53.48s, well off the London qualification mark of 52s. Debashree Mazumdar and Sarita finished second and third respectively with timings of over 54 seconds. “It is just the first competition here and I did not have any runner to push me harder,” Poovamma said.
In the men’s 400m, the gold medallist from the last leg of the Asian Athletics Grand Prix, Mohammad Anas, finished on top with a timing of 45.89 seconds, with Rajiv Arokia and Sachin Roby getting the silver and bronze respectively. In the last leg of the Asian event a week back, Anas had clocked 45.69s missing the London flight by 0.16s. His effort in Patiala wasn’t too disappointing considering that conditions for running were far from ideal with the mercury touching 42 degrees just before competition time.
Apart from the Patiala sun, it was Devender who shone brightly on Sunday. With a beaming smile, he went on greeting his well wishers after the competition. It was a pleasing sight to see him introduce Neeraj, who had skipped the event, to his father. “Remember I used to tell you about a thrower who broke the national record? That’s him,” Devender told his father.
If Devender continues to perform with the same consistency, it is only a matter of time when he too will get introduced in a similar fashion.