Popular sports academies, such as the Chhatrasal Stadium in Delhi, are receiving a flood of new registrations. One Olympian says he gets “at least half a dozen text messages every day” from beginners asking about coaches. And retailers are shipping more equipment.
Neeraj Chopra’s historic gold at the Tokyo Olympics in August has sparked a spate of javelin throws at the base.
So much so that the Athletics Federation of India is on the move to give the sport an extra boost. AFI has announced that each state unit will hold a javelin throwing competition annually on August 7, the day Chopra won India’s first-ever athletics gold at the Olympics. Talks are also underway for an exchange program with Finland, one of the sport’s traditional powerhouses.
At the Chhatrasal stadium, famous for its wrestling akhara, coach Raman Jha says 40 new students have registered for javelin throwing in the past two months. “In my 12 years as a coach, I haven’t seen this kind of interest. After the Olympics, some younger runners asked me if they could switch to javelin throwing. I also get a lot of calls every day from young athletes and their parents, saying that they would like to register for javelin throwing,” says Jha.
Sunil Goswami, a former national javelin champion who trains children at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, says the ‘javelin craze’ is not limited to the capital region.
“I have friends who are coaches from all over the country and they tell me that almost everyone wants to take up javelin throwing after Neeraj’s gold. Children from the outskirts of the city come to the stadium and ask me to train them. There are tennis players, runners and gymnasts who come up to me and say they want to throw javelin,” Goswami says.
Sports equipment manufacturers are also on the wave. Amentum Sports, an Indore-based company, has seen “at least triple” sales since August. Jitender Singh, a partner of Amentum, says that the demand for budget javelins, in the range of Rs 10,000, has increased significantly.
“A lot has changed since the Olympics. We get calls from all over the country. We have high end javelins, which also cost more than Rs 1 lakh, but right now the budget javelins are in huge demand. We also have a few customers who previously went for a cheaper model and now want to try a better model,” says Singh.
Ashutosh Bhalla, director of Vinex Sports, a supplier of javelins to AFI, expects demand to rise next season.
In Delhi, gymnast Arun Kumar, 20, is one of those who recently took up javelin throwing. Seeing the national anthem play with Chopra on the medal podium in Tokyo prompted Arun to make his own spear.
“I found a nice bamboo stick and attached a pointed piece of metal to the end. I tried to throw it in the local park early in the morning. All my throws went wide,” he says. After correcting his release angle with a little help from YouTube videos, Arun bought an entry-level javelin and went to Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium for formal coaching.
International pitcher Shivpal Yadav tells The Indian Express that his phone hasn’t stopped buzzing since he returned from Tokyo. “I get calls every day. When young athletes reach out, I try to guide them. I’ve put them in touch with coaches I know,” said the World Military Games gold medalist.
Coach Goswami says that while the peak is encouraging, the key to producing champions will be the quality of coaching, as javelin throwing is a highly technical sport. “We have a handful of javelin coaches in the country. Most of them are former athletes or senior athletes training juniors. A lot needs to change. Kids showing an interest is just the beginning,” he says.
Since javelin cannot take place while other athletes are training due to the danger of a misplaced javelin, youngsters in Chhatrasal have to show up earlier than the rest. “A lot of kids with no fitness arrive and tell us they want to do javelin throwing. It is a very difficult sport,” said senior coach Sunita Rai.
“We witnessed an increase in interest in athletics after Delhi hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2010. But the current javelin craze is unprecedented… but nothing happens overnight, Neeraj is a special talent,” she says.