DP Manu is in the groove, now part of a young bunch of Indian javelin throwers trailing Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra. Manu’s four performances this season are his career bests. While two of those throws have seen the young man from Karnataka register distances above 80 metres, his 84.35m Personal Best (PB) at the 61st Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships in Chennai on Saturday moved him into the top four of the all-time India top list. The throwers above him on the leaderboard are Neeraj (88.07m, 2021), Shivpal Singh (86.23m, 2019), and Davinder Singh Kang (84.57m, 2017).
Incidentally, all the four athletes have, at some point, trained with the same coach, Kashinath Naik.
The coach made all heads turn towards the southern stand of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium as he screamed “Bharat Mata ki jai” when 22-year-old Manu achieved his best throw. The throw went past Uttar Pradesh's Rohit Yadav’s 82.54m, a meet record set minutes earlier. Shivpal had the earlier meet record at 82.28m set in Guwahati in 2018.
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“ Ab toh gala baith gaya (I have a sore throat now),” Naik says after the event. It’s an inconvenience he is happy to have.
Manu was 17 years old when Naik took him under his wings. Back then, Manu threw around 67m. These are not jaw-dropping distances, but Manu caught Naik’s eye. “Manu’s height, explosive strength and speed excited me. His shoulder length and reach were exceptional as well. It is around 2-2.5cm more than the average,” says Naik, explaining why he made the call.
When asked if Manu’s physical attributes would lead to more muscle stress, Naik replies, “No, not much. Maybe, only a bit.”
When Naik, 39, first met Manu, the teenager weighed around 73kg. “We worked on his fitness, gave him a proper diet to help him gain weight. We worked on his technique as well. We gave him mass gainers and peanut butter. He had no upper-body strength. However, his lower-body strength was massive.
“Now he weighs 88kg and has a height of 187cm (5cm taller than Neeraj). He also has good upper-body strength,” says Naik.
The Army Sports Institute (ASI) in Pune, where Manu trains, has been supportive, says Naik. “ASI has supported me a lot. Whatever I have asked for, they have provided. They did ask me initially why I was interested in a guy (Manu) who throws only 65m. But they trusted me when I told them what I saw in him. Manu is from southern India, where not many javelin coaches are around. I knew training would improve him.”
The chat with the coach is interrupted thrice by his ringing phone and flooding of congratulatory messages. Naik, bronze medallist at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, disconnects with a smile and resumes, talking about Manu’s fitness routine. “Weight training, jumps, hopping, bounding, lifts, half-squats, pullovers, bench-press... the regular, nothing excessive.
“He lifts around 85kg in the snatch now. It used to be around 80kg last year. We don’t push him much lest he picks up an injury. After his last competition in Bhubaneswar (Indian Grand Prix), he strained his elbow, which is a pretty common injury among javelin throwers. Now he is absolutely fine. Today was his day,” says Naik.
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During the event, Naik could be seen frantically gesturing to Manu after each throw. Asked about it, Naik says, “Sometimes, even before you have built on your power, the body moves ahead. Then the throw doesn’t get the full force behind it. Left block karte time, the side should be straight. Early hone se, wo thoda kam hi travel karta hai. (It should be timed to perfection. When you bring on the left-leg block, the line from your throwing arm to your right leg shouldn’t be crooked. If you are too early into this phase, the distance will be lower).”
Naik shares a motivational interaction with an army commandant barely days before the event. “The commandant had done a course in the US. He told us how athletes abroad manage themselves. What to eat, when to leave for the competition, etc. There they have separate people assigned different jobs, but here I am the only one doing it. I called him to thank him. We should emulate what we actually do in practice. Here... I noted down everything for the boys (shows notes) .”
The man of the moment, Manu, who initially picked up a bamboo javelin in school, reveals how he has been trying to emulate Neeraj’s follow-through technique. “I have started this recently. I watch Neeraj’s training videos. We had a chat about this, a couple of times, when Neeraj came to the ASI.”
Naik elaborates, “He has started practising Neeraj’s follow-through routine, the one where he throws the javelin and comes down with the momentum. Manu has done it in practice, but he is yet to do it in competition. Today it wasn’t happening. With that the strength and angle of release can be improved. Also, the distance covered is more, which helps put more power behind the throw. But it should only be done if a proper power position is established. It shouldn’t be early. His balance shifts to the left when he throws, but that shouldn’t be the case. We will work on that.”
Manu, a Havildar in the army, harbours big dreams. “With this medal in the bag, I need a promotion like they get in jobs,” he says. For him the promotion means going from a medal in Indian competitions to one on the biggest stage. “I want to go on and win an Olympic medal,” he says.