Last month’s Junior Nationals threw up a bunch of athletes who rewrote several national records. The Indian Express gives you a heads-up on who is likely to set your hearts racing as they go faster, higher and stronger in the coming years
National Record: 100M (10.85s). 200m: (21.73s)
The expected answer is Usain Bolt, but Nisar Ahmed has his reasons when he names Justin Gatlin as his favourite sprinter. Delhi’s 15-year-old sprint sensation, and the u-16 national record holder in 100m and 200m, loves the way the American star flies off the block, something that Bolt wasn’t really good at. Ahmed, too, in his young and glittering career has stood out with his electric start. Be it for coaches, fellow athletes and wrestling great Sushil Kumar, Nisar at the starting block is a sight that leaves everyone impressed. Since his early days, Nisar has trained at the Chhatrasal Stadium, a venue more famous as Sushil’s workplace. Before hitting the mat, the champion wrestler jogs at the track along with wide-eyed young trainees. “Isko chhote se dekhte aa raha hoon. Iski start bahut badhiya hai aur finish bhi,” says Sushil as he takes a walk along the synthetic track.
It was this flying start that resulted in the Delhi teenager rewriting the U-16 sprint records at the recently-concluded Junior Nationals in Vijayawada. Since his breakthrough race at the Delhi State Athletics meet in September, where his timings were better than senior category winners, Ahmed has shown a marked improvement. Since September, his timing has improved from 11 to 10.85 in 100m and he has slashed the 200m clock from 22.08 to 21.73s.
“When I reached Vijayawada, I was nervous because the best runners from the country were going to be there. So I was a bit shocked to see that the second-best runner was almost two metres behind me,” says Ahmed.
This overwhelming dominance created a buzz . P Peace, a coach at the SAI-run Kerala Sprints and Jumps Academy, was one of the many who were impressed. “I have been coaching for over 30 years now and I have not seen such a talented runner. His reflexes are unbelievable. His strides and rhythmic movements are too good. If Ahmed tells me today that he wants to join the academy, I can promise you that he’ll be enrolled immediately. Food, accommodation, and education all taken care of,” the coach says.
The 100m senior national record holder (10.26s) Amiya Kumar Mallick hasn’t seen Ahmed run but has heard a lot about him. He has a word of advice for him: “His timings are superb but he needs to preserve himself. If he’s going to go all out, he will burn out. These are crucial years and his coach needs to prepare a proper blueprint for his future.”
Ahmed’s coach for almost four years, Sunita Rai is extremely pleased with her ward but says he shouldn’t get carried away. “No doubt his first 30m is the best in the country, but he still needs to work on his take-off. He sometimes leaves the block a split-second after the shot is fired. He also needs foreign exposure trips where he can observe and learn how other athletes train,” says Rai.
It’s Tuesday evening and Ahmed’s at Chhatrasal. Although his coach is unwell and could not make it to the ground, the youngster completes his daily drills with training partners, all elder to him. “I am doing well because I am disciplined. I know how important it is to eat, sleep and train at the right time,” he says. His training begins as early as five in the morning with a gym session, where he focuses on strengthening core muscles. Then he returns home for breakfast and heads to a government school in Azadpur where he was first introduced to athletics.
Surender Singh, a PT educator at his school, was the first to notice the spark. Just on gut feeling, Singh included him in the team for an inter-zonal competition. It was then that he realised that Ahmed, the son of a rickshaw puller, did not even possess a pair of running shorts and most importantly, shoes. “Surender sir bought me my first pair of shoes and I won the competitions without any training,” Ahmed recalls. Since that day, he has been blazing different tracks around the country.
Triple jump (U-18) 15.83m (nr)
Mani Raj went for his first-ever athletics selection at school in Class VI, and was rejected outright. The reason being, he wore glasses. When Raj told his father Shanmugam about the incident, he got furious and went straight to the school to inquire about it.
The school authorities did not budge. He tried again next year, but this time without glasses. Not only did the then sprinter get selected, but he also won the prize for the best athlete in his age category. Raj had not received any formal coaching ever and relied solely on his natural talent. At the recently-concluded junior nationals, Raj was in a similar situation. It’s been almost a year since he’s been training without his coach Vijendran, who quit the school. Yet, he improved the U-18 national mark by 20 cm from 15.63 to 15.83. His previous best was 14.80m — set in Kozhikode at the National School Games last year.
“Mani Raj is the most hardworking kid I know. I have really high expectations from him. Even If I am not working in the same school anymore, I ensure I am there for Mani. We talk over the phone every day,” says coach Vijendran.
Raj’s father works as a loom operator in a mill near his village and earns Rs 10,000 a month. Shanmugam wanted to become an athlete himself but his father never allowed him to pursue his dreams. “I couldn’t do it so now I want my sons to do it,” says Shanmugam whose younger son too is a triple jumper.
After winning the best athlete award in school in the sixth standard, Mani’s physical education teacher Vijendran thought the wiry and tall youngster would fit better in the jump events. “I did not even know what triple jump was. My coach called his friend who taught me and a few other kids the technique. I practised it for hours and managed to pick it up,” he says.
Coach Vijendran feels Raj has great potential provided he works on his run-up. “He’s a bit inconsistent. For triple jump, you have to maintain a steady pace. Over the years Mani has shown improvement in his distances. If he keeps moving up, an international medal won’t be a distant dream,” the coach says.
High jump (U-18): 1.81 metres NR
Four months ago, coach Anil Yadav was worried about 16-year-old high jumper Rubina Yadav’s slow run-up. The lack of speed would result in a low take-off and lower height. On closer scrutiny, the coach found the reason. The one-time sprinter had a natural high-knee approach to the bar, something most jumpers aspire for as they look to increase their bounce. A slight altering of her run-up swung the advantage in Rubina’s favour. Results would soon follow.
At the trials for the 33rd National Junior Athletics Championships, Rubina cleared 1.76 metres — five centimetres more than the national record. For official entry into the record books, Rubina would have had to repeat a similar feat at the championships in Vijayawada.
Rubina bettered the old mark of 1.71m registered by Swapna Burman by 10 centimetres. Rubina also had to cross a psychological barrier because she was up against Gayathri Sivakumar, the Kerala athlete who had beaten her to gold at the two previous national meets. “I had lost to her in the past so that was playing on my mind. But I had carried the confidence from ‘breaking’ the national record during the state trials,” Rubina says.
With the gold pocketed at 1.71 metres, Rubina raised the bar by two centimetres. She would stop only after clearing 1.81m.
When he was first asked to take Rubina under his wings by her father Rakesh, coach Yadav had no hesitation after taking one look at the lithe athlete. “I made her perform a few drills, including standing jumps. What stood out was the length of her lower legs and natural explosive speed,” Yadav says. “She is still working on her run-up and overall technique. During the junior nationals, she had two missed jumps at 1.69m and 1.79m. That was down to a mistake in her right-leg position which was trailing too much. She was able to realise this during competition and made the necessary correction. Her technique is only going to get better,” the coach says.
At the Rao Tula Ram Stadium in Rewari, Rubina often trains in the badminton hall, where the coach has placed mats. Training in the confines of the hall helps her stay insulated from the bevy of budding athletes from a local school who train at the stadium. “She needs my full attention and I don’t mind dedicating time for her. It is not often that a coach gets to train an athlete who is brimming with such potential.”
400m (u-20) 46.59s (NR)
India’s brightest 400m and 800m runner, Amoj Jacob likes to keep his mind clutter-free. He has no unrealistic expectations or anything to prove to anyone. He has a common answer to every complicated question that has the word future in it: “Jo bhi hoga dekha jayega.”
He brings this casual and calm approach to the tracks too. There is a ritual that he religiously follows — a small prayer at the start and another one after crossing the finish line. It’s those few moments of silence and concentration, not just before but also after his run, which he says are responsible for the medals. The latest addition to the awards dangling off his chest happens to be the 400m gold he won at the Junior Nationals at Vijayawada which also saw him break an 11-year old U-20 national record.
Amoj, whose 46.59 seconds bettered the 46.99 set by Virender Pank in 2006, lives in the staff quarters of the Capital’s Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital, where his mother has been employed as a nurse for the last 24 years. The 19-year-old second year B. Com student of Khalsa College took up athletics just four years back. His first love has always been football. His coach Arvind Kapoor, a physical trainer at his school, first spotted Amoj during a football match.
Impressed with his speed on the flanks, Kapoor felt Jacob, then 15, would fare better as a runner. Jacob started off as a 100m sprinter but on his coach’s advice, moulded himself into a 400m and 800m runner. “His height, his movement, and his strides were suited for a 400/800m athlete. He already had incredible speed, so I worked on his endurance,” says Kapoor.
Jacob’s Federation Cup double in May shed light on his potential. He beat seasoned runners like Arokia Rajiv and Jinson Johnson for the 400 and 800m gold respectively. The performance earned him a spot in the Asian Championships held in Bhubaneswar in July.
SAI coach P Peace is certain Amoj is a medal contender at the Commonwealth and Asian Games. “He is an impressive runner. There’s no doubt he will be an integral part of India’s athletics in the future,” he says.
The youngster was also part of the 4×400 relay team that took part in the London World Championships in August where the team finished 10th. “It’s all God’s gift,” Jacob’s mother Mary Kutty says. Mary explains how prayer is an integral part of the Jacob household and no one goes to bed before they gather for their daily prayers.
Coach Kapoor says he has prepared a blueprint for Amoj. The focus will remain on increasing his speed and endurance gradually. “It’s a slow process. You improve the endurance and then add speed, and again go back to work on endurance. It’s a cycle,” Kapoor explains. His ward is determined to follow his coach’s advice. “I’ve never had strength training and gym sessions. But my coach feels we should work on it now. I have good endurance naturally and I want to add a bit of pace now,” Amoj says.
With the Commonwealth and Asian Games lined up next year, Jacob is eager to fine-tune himself just in time.
But as usual, he’s not stressing. “I don’t think much, honestly. That has been my motto. I don’t get disappointed even when I lose. So I am going to take it step by step. Jo bhi hoga dekha jayega.”
Javelin Throw (U-16) 74.73 metres (NR)
There is a small patch of land in Kaulapur near Bhadohi in Uttar Pradesh, which local athletes have converted into a throwing arena. There is nothing fancy there, according to 15-year-old Vikas Yadav. What drew him to the dusty ground was the presence of Rajesh Kumar Bind, a former junior national record holder, and another thrower of repute Kaleatar Singh. Noticing that the youngster was a regular at the ground, the two throwers asked him if he wanted to take up javelin throw.
“That is how I started throwing. Initially, I used a wooden spear. There was always someone to guide me in my early days because of these two national-level throwers who were training in my village,” Vikas says.
Two years ago when he got to know that the Army Sports Institute (ASI) in Pune was conducting trials for the Boys Sports Company — a hostel programme for promising athletes before they are inducted — Vikas decided to try his luck. “The regimented training and the facility which comprises a biomechanics lab, nutritionists and mental trainers, has made a difference,” Vikas says.
At the national junior championships, Vikas broke Rohit Yadav’s mark (72.05m) by over two metres.
While talking about Vikas’s potential, ASI coach Rakesh Rawat draws attention to the distances his ward throws during training — with the 800 gram javelin used in senior competition. “He broke the national record with the 700 gram javelin but what really excites me is that he registers 70metre-plus throws with the heavier one. This show he has the potential to throw 85 metres once he reaches the senior level,” Rawat says.
Nearly a decade ago, Rawat had coached another young javelin thrower Kashinath Naik and he is happy to compare the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist to Vikas. “These are early days I know, but Vikas is far more talented than Naik. He has the combination of speed and strength. As a coach my job is to ensure he is spot-on with his technique,” Rawat adds.
Kaleatar, one of his early coaches at Kaulapur, says the youngster has the ability to win a senior medal at an international event. “He was a quick learner and had the natural ability to throw the javelin,” he says.
Vikas keeps watching videos of Davinder Singh Kang, a World Championship finalist, and world junior champion Neeraj Chopra. “As a youngster it is important to have idols who can inspire. I am lucky that this is a promising phase for javelin throwers in the country.”