Academies, equipment sellers, all point to javelin surge after Neeraj Chopra gold

Neeraj Chopra's historic gold at the Tokyo Olympics in August has triggered a javelin surge at the grassroots.

Popular sports academies, like the Chhatrasal Stadium in Delhi, are clocking a rush of new enrollments. An Olympian says he is getting “at least half-a-dozen text messages every day” from beginners asking about coaches. And retailers are shipping in more equipment.

Neeraj Chopra’s historic gold at the Tokyo Olympics in August has triggered a javelin surge at the grassroots.

So much so that the Athletics Federation of India is moving to give the sport an extra push. AFI has announced that each state unit will hold an annual javelin competition every August 7, the day Chopra won India’s first-ever track and field gold at the Olympics. Talks are also on for an exchange programme with Finland, one of the traditional powerhouses of the sport.

At the Chhatrasal Stadium, famous for its wrestling akhara, coach Raman Jha says 40 new students have enrolled for javelin over the past two months. “In my 12 years as a coach, I have not seen this kind of interest. After the Olympics, a few of the younger runners asked me if they could switch to javelin. I also get a lot of calls every day from young athletes and their parents, saying they would like to enrol for javelin,” Jha says.

Sunil Goswami, a former national javelin champion who trains children at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi, says the “javelin craze” isn’t limited to the capital region.

“I have friends who are coaches from across the country and they tell me almost everyone wants to take up javelin after Neeraj’s gold. Children from the outskirts of the city turn up at the stadium and request me to train them. There are tennis players, runners and gymnasts who come up to me and say they want to take up javelin,” Goswami says.

Sports equipment manufacturers are riding the wave, too. Amentum Sports, an Indore-based company, has seen “at least a three-fold increase” in sales since August. Jitender Singh, a partner with Amentum, says the demand for budget javelins, within the range of Rs 10,000, has gone up significantly.

“Things have changed after the Olympics. We are getting calls from all over the country. We have high-end javelins, which cost over Rs 1 lakh too, but at the moment the budget javelins are in huge demand. We also have a few customers who went for a cheaper model earlier and now want to try a better one,” Singh says.

Ashutosh Bhalla, director, Vinex Sports, a supplier of javelins to AFI, expects demand to rise next season.

In Delhi, gymnast Arun Kumar, 20, is among those who took up javelin recently. Watching the national anthem play with Chopra on the medals podium in Tokyo prompted Arun to make his own javelin.

“I found a nice bamboo stick and fixed a pointed piece of metal at the end. I tried throwing it early in the morning at the local park. All my throws went wide,” he says. Once he corrected his release angle with a little help from YouTube videos, Arun bought himself an entry-level javelin and headed to Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium for formal coaching.

International thrower Shivpal Yadav tells The Indian Express that his phone hasn’t stopped buzzing since returning from Tokyo. “I get calls every day. Whenever young athletes reach out, I try to guide them. I put them in touch with coaches I know,” says the World Military Games gold medallist.

Coach Goswami says that though the spike is encouraging, the key to producing champions will be the quality of coaching as javelin is a highly technical sport. “We have a handful of javelin coaches in the country. Most of them are former athletes or senior athletes who train juniors. A lot of change has to take place. Kids showing interest is just the beginning,” he says.

Since javelin coaching cannot take place while other athletes train because of the hazard of a misguided spear, youngsters at Chhatrasal have to turn up earlier than the rest. “Lot of kids with no fitness arrive and tell us they want to do javelin. It’s a very difficult sport,” senior coach Sunita Rai says.

“We witnessed a rise in interest in athletics after Delhi hosted the 2010 Commonwealth Games. But the current javelin craze is unprecedented… nothing happens overnight though, Neeraj is a special talent,” she says.

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