There is a lot more to sports than just winning medals. When Kishore Kumar Jena was a kid growing up in Kothasahi, a small hamlet in Puri district, little did he imagine that he would one day make a mark.
Kishore’s exploits at the recently concluded 2023 World Athletics Championships have taken the shape of heroic tales now; the Odisha athlete’s journey to Budapest is a tribute to the human spirit.
Although a medal eluded Kishore in his maiden World Championships appearance, he entered the record books by making the final of the men’s javelin throw event along with fellow athletes Neeraj Chopra and D. P. Manu.
“It’s the stuff of dreams, and I am still very emotional with the reception I got. I am really happy that the hard work has been recognised, and it was a wonderful experience at the World Championships. It was a thrilling moment to enter the final alongside Neeraj bhai and Manu. We did stun a few,” Kishore told Sportstar.
The Budapest tale
It was history in the making in Budapest. First, reigning Olympic champion Neeraj qualified for the final, breaching the Paris Olympic qualification mark of 85.50m with a massive throw of 88.77m. Manu, with a throw of 81.31m, also made it. Debutant Kishore proved his mettle, eventually joining the duo with a throw of 80.55m.
“Everything was very new for me in Budapest, and there was a bit of pressure during the qualifiers. The atmosphere was amazing, and it was a wonderful moment for all three of us to qualify for the final. I believe it was a great learning experience, and I am looking forward to giving my best in the Asian Games,” Kishore said.
Neeraj was the showstopper in the final, clinching the gold, with Arshad Nadeem and Jakub Vadlejch also getting onto the podium with the silver and bronze medals, respectively. Kishore, meanwhile, finished an incredible fifth, registering his Personal Best (PB) of 84.77m with Manu in the sixth position.
In a field that is generally dominated by Germans and Czechs, it was refreshing to watch three Indians finish in the top six.
“It was my first final in a World Championship, and there were certainly some nerves. But Neeraj bhai helped a lot and constantly supported me. I am happy that I registered my personal best, but I could have done better. Nevertheless, it was a huge learning experience, and in fact, our qualification for the finals surprised many people in the arena. Generally, athletes from other countries would have two to three throwers in the final (sic), but this time it was different, and to finish in the top six was incredible, especially with Neeraj bhai winning the gold. We had a wonderful camaraderie, and the company of Neeraj bhai was something really special. He is an inspiration,“ Kishore said.
The World Athletics Championships in Budapest also served as a qualification event for the 2024 Paris Olympics, but Kishore failed to make the cut.
“At the back of my mind, there was this thought of qualifying for Paris. However, I couldn’t achieve that in Budapest despite giving my best. I will certainly try to book an Olympic berth during the Asian Games. I am feeling good and am in a very good space. My rhythm is also good. I am looking forward to the Games,” Kishore stated.
The visa issue
Kishore’s participation in the World Championships was doubtful after his one-month visa was cancelled by the Hungarian embassy. However, Neeraj’s timely intervention and the Indian government’s involvement helped Kishore board the flight to Budapest.
“I was moved when Neeraj bhai messaged me personally during my visa issue and asked me not to get worried. It was a crisis moment, and I was tense about my visa, but he (Neeraj) spoke to me and assured that I would join the team. He was constantly there with me throughout, and I was very touched by his gesture,” he said.
“I reached a day before the start of the championships, and Neeraj bhai invited me to his room. I was awestruck with his personality, and we had a long chat where he asked how I was doing and to approach him if I needed anything. It was very kind of him... He asked me to focus on the event, and the pep talk really motivated me. Till then, I had never met him personally before, and this meeting was very special. I never expected that he would call us for a photograph, and despite achieving so much success, he is very humble and down to earth. Even before the final event, I was very stressed, but he calmed me down, helped me throw better, and guided me throughout the event,” Kishore added.
Boy next door
Kishore believes in simple living. When at home, he would often accompany his father, Keshab, a farmer, to the fields, indulge in fun activities with his friends, and spend time with his mother, Harapriya. Kishore, the youngest in the family, is equally loved and supported by his six sisters.
“The journey has been tough, but I always had support from my family. There hasn’t been any such pressure from my parents, and they have always wanted me to enjoy what I am doing. My parents always say, ‘ Moro khusi re hin tanka khusi’ (their happiness lies in mine) and I have been incredibly lucky to get such support. My sisters are all married, and God has been kind. I am proud of where I belong, and I believe my journey has just started.”
Javelin wasn’t Kishore’s first love. In fact, he never thought of playing the sport, let alone dream of representing India. “I belong to a middle-class family and like all others, I was also interested in sports. I began playing volleyball first and wasn’t even inclined towards javelin. I was a decent player in volleyball but I did try my hand at javelin. It all started normally alongside volleyball, but gradually I started to like throwing the spear and slowly started to take the sport seriously. After playing in some meets, I realised my throw was improving, and that boosted my confidence,” he said.
The move to the Bhubaneswar sports hostel in 2015 was a major step as the decision shaped Kishore’s javelin career.
“Going to the sports hostel really helped me, and I want to thank the Odisha government for providing me with all the amenities. Earlier sportspersons from Odisha, especially those who were having financial troubles, could never dream of making a career in sports. But now, with so many initiatives, everyone can aspire to become a good sportsperson and support their families. Personally, I hope more throwers emerge from Odisha.”
While congratulatory messages have been pouring in, there have also been financial rewards, with Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik felicitating the athlete with a cash award of Rs. 50 lakh.
‘Target Asian Games’
Kishore’s growth in the track and field discipline was rather rapid, as he threw the javelin over long distances and set new state meet records. As the years rolled by, a new destination in NIS Patiala saw Kishore train under coach Samarjeet Singh Malhi.
Kishore broke the 80-metre mark when he took home the silver at the 2023 Inter-State Nationals in Bhubaneswar with a throw of 82.87m. He further improved, registering his then personal best throw of 84.38m at the Sri Lanka National Athletics Championships in Colombo in July 2023.
“So far it’s been good, and there won’t be any change in my training regime as my coach has set some guidelines to follow. There has been an overall improvement, but I am still working on some areas, and the target now is the upcoming Asian Games. Technique-wise, there won’t be any changes except for some slight adjustments as per the coach’s advice.”
Kishore isn’t exactly ‘homesick’ but is looking forward to unwinding in his hometown after being accorded a hero’s welcome in Bhubaneswar.
“I haven’t eaten home-cooked food for a very long time, and I am looking forward to it. (I’d want to) Meet my friends and family, have some fun, and then head back to Patiala for training. Winning a medal at the Asian Games and qualifying for the Paris Olympics will be my life’s best moment.”
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