Shivpal Singh was born to be a javelin thrower because hurling the 800 gram spear is a family tradition. The 23-year old from Hingutar Garh in Varanasi district has so many blood relatives and an extended family full of javelin throwers that he can’t count them on his fingers. It starts with his father, his uncle, his uncle’s nephew and goes on and on. Inspired by Shivpal, his younger brother Nandkishore Singh, a junior national medallist, took up only the one sport he was ever supposed to – javelin throw.
But despite the sport being in his blood, Shivpal is yet to have a breakthrough season. He hopes 2019 will be the year he turns the corner. Since star thrower Neeraj Chopra’s emergence in 2016, when he won the gold at the World Junior Championships, the other javelin throwers have had to live in his giant shadow. Sometimes an injury has pegged them back further, like in Shivpal’s case when he could only manage a single throw at last year’s Asian Games, an event in which Chopra won the gold.
Chopra isn’t at the 23rd Federation Cup — the final selection trial for the Asian Athletics Championships in April — as the selectors exempted him. This competition was about who will book the second slot in the Indian team. Shivpal laid down the marker on Friday.
It took just one attempt for Shivpal to surpass the qualifying guideline of 80.75 metres set by the Athletics Federation of India. Friday morning was the qualifying round for the men’s javelin final and the top throwers at this stage of the competition stick to doing just enough. Shivpal got down to business straightaway. Fresh from a training stint with the elite throwers in Potchefstroom under coach Uwe Hohn, Shivpal’s first attempt sailed over the qualifying guideline. He registered a throw of 81.85 metres to provisionally book a spot in the Indian team. The final of the men’s javelin throw is on Saturday, but going by the modest throws of others in the fray, Shivpal is likely to top.
He hopes to bounce back from the disappointment of the Asian Games at the Asian Championships in Doha.
“Everyone in my village expects me to do great things in athletics because of the number of javelin throwers in my family. Before the Asian Games, I was throwing 85 to 86 metres during training. However, I had felt stiffness in my elbow after my first throw and could not complete the rest of my throws. I managed just 74.11 metres. It broke my heart when the bronze medal was won at 80.75,” Shivpal said.
Shivpal is a sergeant in the airforce and concedes that Chopra, an army man, is a class apart. But he is confident of getting within touching distance of the current star. “I need a good result in a big meet. Once that happens at the Asian Championships or at the World Championship later this year, then I know I can fulfil my potential,” Shivpal said.
Like Chopra, Shivpal too battled with puppy fat. Chopra was pushed into cycling to a local gymnasium to get lighter. Shivpal shows you the scars from getting a beating with spikes from his uncle Jagmohan Singh, who was determined to turn his foodie nephew into a serious thrower. His grandfather, a wrestler, was so worried about Shivpal becoming lethargic and obese that he used to give him a massage with mud.
Jagmohan was in the airforce, so he uprooted Shivpal from Hingutar Garh and brought him to Palam. “My uncle was strict. I used to get a good lashing everyday. He used to make me run round after round at the Palam ground,” Shivpal recalled.
It got so bad for Shivpal, that one day he sneaked out and headed back to his native village without informing his uncle. But Jagmohan didn’t tolerate the indiscipline and dragged him back to Delhi in a couple of days. His father Ramasaray Singh, also a javelin thrower, believed tough love was the need of the hour. “I still eat a lot but because now I am training hard it does not show. Also I am obsessed with javelin throw now. I can’t let my family down. I have to win a big medal for my family. We are well known in the village as a family of javelin throwers, I have to live up to expectations,” he says.
Kamalpreet beats Navjeet
Twenty-two year old Kamalpreet Kaur stunned 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medal winner Navjeet Kaur Dhillon by winning gold in the women’s discus throw. Kamalpreet bettered the Asian Championships guideline of 58.50 metres with 60.25 in her sixth and last attempt. Dhillon took the silver with 56.36 metres, which was below her CWG effort of 57.43.
Kamalpreet’s effort was even more creditable because the Railway athlete has not fully recovered from a lower back injury. Last year, Kamalpreet had shown she could join the big league when she bettered former CWG and Asian Games medal winner Krishna Punia’s Railway record.
Kamalpreet will have to repeat the performance at a confirmatory trial which will be conducted by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) just before the team leaves for the Asian Championships. “As she is not in the national camp, we will want to gauge if she can maintain this performance at the trials. This is done for all athletes who are not part of the camp but qualify for international meets,” an AFI official said.