When javelin coach Kashinath Naik wanted to enrol DP Manu in the Army Sports Insitute (ASI) two years ago, his decision was questioned by many, including his seniors in the elite training centre. Karnataka’s Manu, back then, was a skinny thrower with “poor technique” and was in the 65m range.
Despite his shortcomings, coach Kashinath saw his raw potential. Manu’s height, powerful legs, and long arms caught the seasoned coach’s eye. Although it seemed like a gamble at that stage, Kashinath, who has worked with top throwers like Neeraj Chopra and Annu Rani, knew exactly what he was doing.
Manu, who breached the 80m mark in March this year, restored Kashinath’s faith with a huge throw of 84.35m at the Inter-State Meet in Chennai on Saturday. Manu’s effort earned him the top spot as Rohit Yadav, despite four 80plus throws (82.45,80.49,82.54, 82.07), finished with a silver medal around his neck. Yashvir Singh bagged bronze with a best throw of 78.62m.
The 22-year-old admitted that even he was a bit surprised with the distance he managed in his only 80plus throw of the evening. “I was expecting something in the range of 82 or 83m but this has surprised even me. But this is a huge confidence booster. I am extremely pleased with the result,” says Manu who has already made the cut for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
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Manu’s tryst with javelin began in high school when his physical education teacher one fine day asked him to have a go at it. Let alone technique, he had no idea about the sport. In his first attempt, the budding volleyball player somehow managed to cross the 35m, not impressive by any standards, but it was love at first throw for the youngster.
“It was something different. I really liked it. I knew immediately that this was the sport for me and I soon started throwing more regularly,” says Manu who never went back to volleyball after picking up the spear.
With Manu clear on which sport to pursue, he had a huge problem to address. “I couldn’t find any coaches,” he says. South India has never been a hotbed for throwers, unlike the Haryana-Punjab belt. That means resources are scarce for budding throwers in the region. But Manu wasn’t going to give up easily. He picked up the basic throwing technique by watching YouTube videos of World record holder Zan Zelezny.
“I picked up everything at the initial stage from YouTube. I even learnt workout and training methods by watching videos. Without a coach I somehow managed to throw around the 65m region,” he explained.
But the then-teenager knew that to progress to the next level he definitely needed personal guidance from a coach. That’s when Kashinath Naik, 2010 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, stepped in.
After convincing his commandant at the ASI to sign up Manu, he immediately worked on improving Manu’s upper body strength. His diet was altered entirely and a lot of peanut butter was included to gain some weight. “He weighed 73kg when he joined me, now he’s 88 and has strengthened his upper core. That is the reason he is able to produce those explosive jumps,” explains coach Kashinath.
Tuesday’s field included three other young throwers – Yashvir, Rohit, and Sahil – from the 80m club. Rohit, who has been the most consistent among the lot, was disappointed at finishing second despite recording three throws better than his previous personal best. “Ab 80m ke neechae baat heen nahi hoti, (Now 80m is the new norm). I am a little disappointed but at the same time really happy that the level of competition has gone up so much. The more we push each other the better we will get,” said Rohit.
As for Manu, coach Kashinath warns against getting carried away entirely. “He has a lot to improve. He needs to improve his release angle, he has this tendency to go towards the left. We will work on it. Quite recently he has started falling over like Neeraj Chopra after throwing. Falling isn’t bad but you have to time it perfectly,” coach Kashinath says.
No doubt Manu’s Youtube search now not only features Zelezny’s throws but Chopra’s as well.