DP Manu raises benchmark for India's next-gen javelin stars

DP Manu recorded the best-throw by an Indian this year and the fourth-best throw in India’s javelin history. Shyam Vasudevan

DP Manu didn't have a passport until 2021. When his coach Kashinath Naik got one made for the young javelin thrower, he had not yet crossed the coveted 80m mark. But Naik's faith in him was steadfast.

Earlier this year Naik also applied for a US visa for Manu, after he threw 82.43m at the IGP. Naik was convinced it was enough for Manu to qualify for the World Athletics Championships in Oregon.

Manu repaid his coach's faith on Saturday as he threw a massive personal best of 84.35m to win the Inter-State championships in Chennai. He had improved his PB by nearly 2m (from 82.45m), making him India's fourth-best javelin thrower.

It also meant he was certain of making his first trip abroad, finally using the passport that coach Naik got him. He will board an 18-hour train from Chennai to Pune on Sunday night but will be checking in to the airport come July. The very prospect of which is "very exciting" for the boy from Hassan in Karnataka.

"I honestly never thought I would hit the 84m mark today. Aaj bohot accha gaya (today went very well)," says Manu, as he fights the beads of sweat that dribble onto his nose.

Manu has been training with Naik in Pune for the last two-and-a-half years and has been home for only three days since, to celebrate Diwali. His parents, farmers in a coffee estate back in Hassan, were left speechless by his feat. "The words weren't coming out...they are so happy," he says with tears brimming in his eyes. He admits he really misses his family and the homegrown coffee, but adds "I made up my mind that I have to do this (stay away from home) if I have to achieve something in sport."

At 22, Manu is unflinchingly determined. And a large part of this mindset comes from his coach Naik, who won bronze at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Naik's faith in Manu has been unwavering - from the time when he convinced his seniors at the Army Sports Institute (ASI) in Pune to enroll Manu. Manu was a lanky teenager then with a best throw of around 65m. But Naik saw potential in his raw talent and the fact that he was from South India - where javelin throwers seldom emerged from - made Naik believe there was untapped talent in Manu.

Fun fact: Naik had taken a day's trip right before the Inter-State Championships to pray at a temple near his hometown in Joga for Manu's success. He's now on his way back to the temple to offer his gratitude.

Naik is meticulous in his planning - he's made a bulletproof timetable that details when Manu is to train, eat, sleep and the like. And of course, there was a timetable for Saturday too: reach the stadium at 5:30 pm, warm up from 6:15 pm and begin with a 90% effort throw around 79m. Manu stuck to the plan and sent the spear 78.73m on his first throw to get underway.

But what spurred him on even further was Rohit Yadav's remarkable 82.45m throw, which was his PB and a new meet record. Manu would go on to throw the javelin 2m more than his compatriot to re-write the meet record and cement his position in India's CWG roster.

Naik would go berserk in the stands and nearly lose his voice celebrating his ward's feat; he finally had a chance to justify his selection of Manu.

Back on the track, Manu's throw had charged up his competitors. Each wanting to outdo him. Rohit secured four 80+ throws [82.45m, 80.49m, 82.54m, 82.07m] and managed three PBs along the way, an indication of his consistency.

Rohit concedes that he might not have pushed himself as hard as he did, if not for Manu. "If he did not throw 84m, then maybe I would not have pushed myself to do better. His throw made me feel I could do more as well and it motivated me to push myself. It helped me push beyond my 100%. My target was to cross the 80m mark on all my throws, but I am very happy that I did it on four throws and achieved a new PB as well. I'll do better at the next event."

Yashvir Singh, who finished third with a best throw of 78.62m, says "Each of us wants to do better and that in turn pushes us to improve. We feed off each other's energies. If one of us does well the others want to do better. The greater the level of competition, the better our performances."

Rohit chips in that they help each other with stretches during the event and keep exchanging ideas, while Yashvir wisely adds, "There's no dushmani (enmity) amongst us. What's the point? Everyone has worked hard, we need to support each other."

National javelin coach Jai Choudhary was all praise the "most talented batch" in India's javelin history, saying Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra has shown them how far they can go.

"Neeraj [Chopra] is a path-breaker, he has shown these youngsters how far you can go and how far you can throw. He's shown that the 80m can be breached. I feel this is India's most talented batch of throwers, it has never happened before [that we have had four young throwers crossing the 80m mark]. They have been consistently good over the last five years and I feel they will continue to do well over the next six-seven years. You will not find such talent every year."