There was no Indian in action on the 21st of August at the Athletics World Championships. Although Indians could potentially have fielded numbers in the semifinals of the men’s 400m hurdles and the men’s triple jump final, all the country’s athletes exited in the very first stage.
That’s not to say there was no Indian representation on the day. It contributed to a silver for Slovenia’s Kristjan Ceh, who threw 70.02m to claim his second consecutive medal at the World Championships.
Those who follow the throwing events know exactly what they are seeing. With its trademark bright yellow panels, the Nelco Ultra Spin RimGlide 78 is perhaps one of the most distinctive implements in world athletics. It’s the discus that won throwers the gold medal at the World Championships in Eugene and both gold and silver at the Tokyo Olympics.
It is made in the modest North Indian town of Meerut. While Olympic and World medals might be spoken of in incredibly hallowed tones in most parts of India, at the Nelco unit, located 100km from New Delhi, winning Olympic and World medals with their throwing implements is almost expected. “We have been specialists in making throwing implements for many decades, and we have been regularly winning medals in the last twenty years. The first Olympic gold with a Nelco discus was won by Gerd Kanter in 2008, and we usually get 2 out of 3 who place on the podium. At last year’s World Championships, we won gold in the men’s event and silver in the women’s discus,” says Ambar Anand, managing director of the company.
Before producing high-flying two-kilo metal discs, Nelco began by making lighter shuttlecocks in Lahore’s Mohini Street. The company was originally named Nelson, after the English admiral. After fleeing to India following the partition of 1947, Balraj Anand restarted the business and expanded it to include skipping ropes and dumbbells.
It was only by chance that Balraj decided to make track and field equipment. “Back in 1951, when Pandit Nehru [the first Prime Minister of India] organised the Asian Games in India, my grandfather’s maternal uncle was named the manager of the Indian contingent. At that time, no one was making track and field equipment in India. He suggested that we start manufacturing equipment for athletics. Now we are the third generation of the family in this line,” says Anand.
He’s incidentally not the only member of his family in the throwing implements business. Another branch of the family manages Anand Track and Field Equipment (ATE). They too contributed to a podium finish at the World Championships after Italy’s Leonardo Fabbri won silver with a new personal best using an ATE stainless steel shot. Nelson, though, was reconfigured as Nelco in 1960. Anand says the company’s turning point came in 1982, when they were asked to supply equipment for the Asian Games in India. “We were making and exporting equipment, but we didn’t really have a recognisable brand. That changed after the Asian Games. After that, we were used in Asian athletics and were approved for use by the international federation at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. We have been featured in world-level competitions ever since,” says Anand.
One of the four discuses approved for use at the 2023 Worlds is Nelco’s Ultra Spin Gold; the others are Japan’s Nishi, Germany’s Denfi, and UCS of the United States. And although all athletes have a common pool of discuses to pick from at the Worlds, no one changes implements. And it’s the Indian company that seems to be fairly popular. That’s because a discus isn’t just a discus.
Evolution of discus
What was once just an ovoid metal disc tapered at the ends is now an extremely technologically driven implement.
“On the face of it, the discus doesn’t seem like it’s very complicated to make. But there are a lot of parameters and tolerances that go into making an Olympic discus. A 2kg discus has a tolerance of about 20 grams. The manufacturing has to be very precise,” says Anand. There are many factors that determine how far a discus can fly, including material and design, in addition to the precise shape and size required.
The typical discus has sides made of plastic, wood, fibreglass, carbon fibre, or metal, with a metal rim and a core for weight. A discus with more weight on the rim produces greater angular momentum and rotation. Rotation matters: a typical spin of 400 revolutions per minute stabilises the discus in flight, much as a bicycle wheel stays upright as long as it spins. More spin means more stability, although it is more difficult to throw. Material used and weight distribution all play a role in the distance the discus travels.
“We have to conform to a certain design set by World Athletics, but we can play with the material of the rim, the material of the plate, and what you do inside the discus. What material is in the centre weight, where you place it, how far and much it can spin—all that is something we can do,” says Anand. “The discus is made of a lot of things. The rim can be iron, stainless steel, or brass, and the flush-mounted plates on two sides of the rim can have different coatings. The weight can either be in the centre or spread to the side. But it has to be balanced, or else it won’t glide. It will become like a cricket ball that has one side heavier than the other. It will just wobble and fall faster,” he says.
Indeed, the humble discus has come a long way. “When we started, we would just have a mild steel rim and a wooden plate for the sides. Now we are experimenting with using polymers and different composites for the sides. Even a one percent increase in spin can make a difference for throwers. We even use wind tunnels to rate our discus for distance. That’s very unique to us,” says Anand.
Competition, even among manufacturers, can be intense. “You have to be one step ahead. Everyone knows what the principles for getting better flight time are. So you have to do a lot of research and get them trademarked before you go to the market,” says Anand.
One trademark is the distinctive yellow plastic sides. Anand says he got the idea in 2010 after competitors claimed they had made the discus that won gold at the Commonwealth Games. “That’s when we shifted to making a very bright yellow discus. Now Nelco is synonymous with the color. We have throwers who want a different colour. Some female throwers want it to be pink, but we always insist it has to be yellow. That’s what we are known for,” he says.
A lot of throwers use the honeybee-coloured disc. “I’m guessing something like 6 out of 10 of the best in the world use it. It used to be surprising to a lot of people for about 10 years because India didn’t have a great reputation for manufacturing quality. But now we have a reputation as the workshop of the world, at least for athletics goods,” says Anand.
To each his own
Not everyone uses the yellow discus though. “It’s a personal choice,” explains Travis Smikle of Jamaica, who uses a Nishi discus. “It all depends on how the discus feels on my hand. I actually have relatively small hands, so I don’t like a very wide rim. So the Nelco discus doesn’t work for me,” he says.
It certainly works for Ceh, though. He started throwing with it last year, since he started training under Kanter. Since then, he’s won two world titles. “I started using the Nelco discus because my coach, Gerd Kanter, used to use it as well. I like the way the rim feels against my hand. It feels like it stays in my hand for longer. I get a better grip with it, and there’s more revolution when I throw it,” he says.
It’s that praise that keeps Anand in the discus business. “We also make weightlifting equipment and supply the Indian and Asian federations, and honestly, there’s a lot more money in it. Everyone needs weight plates. But we only sell about 20,000 discus each year. But every few years we have these elite athletes sending us pictures with our discus, and we know that our equipment wins gold medals at the Worlds or Olympics. It gives us a lot of pride,” says Anand. And although they were beaten to first place at the Worlds this year, they are counting on turning things around at next year’s Olympics. “By next year, we will be back,” Anand says.
- Al Duhail vs Al Nassr LIVE Score: ALD 2-3 NAS, hat-trick for Talisca, Coutinho scores brace, AFC Champions League updates
- ICC World Cup 2023: Is Maxwell’s double-century knock against Afghanistan the best ODI innings of all time
- Why is Cristiano Ronaldo not playing in the Al Duhail vs Al Nassr Champions League match?
- ICC World Cup 2023, AUS vs AFG: List of all records broken during Australia vs Afghanistan CWC 2023 match
- AFC Cup 2023-24: Mohun Bagan SG lose to Bashundhara Kings