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Shivpal Singh: a javelin star in the making

Sketch: B. Rajesh

Sketch: B. Rajesh  

Shivpal Singh served notice of his potential with a throw of 86.23m earlier this year. Can he emulate Neeraj Chopra and develop into a world-class thrower?

As a boy, Shivpal Singh did not have to break his head over his choice of sport. When he accompanied his father and uncles to the fields in his village in Chandauli, about 30km from Varanasi, he saw them playing with long spears.

They were good javelin throwers. In fact, the family excelled at the sport.

“My uncle, Jagmohan Singh, is a former national champion and my dad Ramasaray and another uncle Shivpujan were good at it too,” says Shivpal Singh from Spala, Poland, where he is currently training.

The flying spear soon became his favourite toy.

“I must have been 14 when I started trying out the javelin. And my uncle Jagmohan coached me for nearly six years. And he was very strict,” Shivpal says.

Javelin throwing in the country has been all about Neeraj Chopra these last few years. And as Chopra’s list of achievements got longer — under-20 World title, Asian title, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games gold and Diamond League placings — the others were pushed to the margins of public memory.

A new act

But with the World Championships in Doha less than a hundred days away, nobody is talking about Chopra. Indian athletics’ biggest star is injured; after elbow surgery in May, he is unlikely to be ready in time. The news shattered the morale of the country’s athletics community, but Shivpal has stormed the stage with a new act.

And it is a sparkling one. The 23-year-old produced a stunning 86.23m throw for the silver at the Asian Championships in Doha in April and announced his arrival. That effort — he finished behind Taipei’s Asian record-holder Chao-Tsun Cheng in Doha — made Shivpal the second-best thrower in Indian javelin history, behind Chopra who holds the National Record at 88.06m. It also booked him a ticket to Doha (qualification standard: 83m).

Rapid rise

Where did he come from? Where was he all these years? Is he genuine? Will he be another Chopra?

These are some of the questions that have popped up with Shivpal’s rise — until March, he was an 82m thrower, but he improved his personal best by nearly four metres and is the seventh-best thrower in the world this year. He has also risen eight spots in the world rankings, from No. 22 to No. 14, over the last week.

Shivpal claims he was an 86m-plus thrower even last year; only it didn’t come in competition. “I was doing over 86m during training before last year’s Asian Games but in Jakarta, I had an elbow injury and had to pull out after just one throw.”

German Uwe Hohn, the national javelin throw coach, reveals that Shivpal’s Doha show surprised him. “I was a bit surprised, not that he can throw that far but that he did it in Doha!” says Hohn from Spala.

But Hohn does not doubt the youngster’s potential. “Shivpal can probably also throw 88m and maybe next year even further, but I would be happy if he could throw around 85m one or two more times this year.”

Injury worries

The former East German, whose 104.80m World Record throw in 1984 forced the IAAF to redesign the javelin for reasons of safety and start the records afresh, says Shivpal was hampered by a back problem when he made his Diamond League debut recently in Oslo where he finished eighth with 80.87m in a world-class field.

Mission 90

“His injury happened about six weeks ago but we don’t have a physio for the javelin team so it needed quite a while to get better!” says Hohn. “If he stays healthy he should be able to throw 90m in the next few years.”

That is the target. “I want to do between 88 and 90m within the next two years,” says Shivpal, a sergeant with the Indian Air Force. “The only thing is there should not be injuries. Right now, I’m fit. My dream is an Olympic medal and it’s possible if I’m fit. I want to throw 90m in the Olympics.”

It’s clear that Indian javelin throwers have begun to think big. Chopra could be the reason for this. Shivpal and his fellow throwers have lived in Chopra’s shadow for far too long and now want to make a mark of their own.

Shivpal and Chopra have different throwing styles. “Shivpal comes up with a fast and active run-up,” says Hohn.

Incidentally, Chopra is not Shivpal’s idol. It is his uncle, Jagmohan, who forced him through a tough regimen and shaped him into one of Asia’s leading throwers.

The Chopra equation

“But Chopra is a very good friend, I share my personal thoughts with him. We were roommates in Spala in 2016,” says Shivpal.

“And [Asian record holder] Chao-Tsun Cheng was my roommate in Oslo during the Diamond League. He is a very jovial guy, fun to be with. There are two coaches travelling with Cheng, including one from Sweden, and a physio. I wish we could have things like that.”

When he prepares for his throws and during competition, Shivpal often listens to Tarsem Jassar’s popular Punjabi numbers. And as he uncorks the javelin in the days leading up to the Worlds, he will hope that it continues dancing to his tune.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 6:42:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/shivpal-singh-a-javelin-star-in-the-making/article28103174.ece

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