Varanasi is a religious township in the north of India that often attracts devotees and tourists alike. Situated on the banks of river Ganga, the place is well-known for its rich culture and heritage.
But away from all the hustle and bustle that this town is synonymous with, there’s another aspect that traces its roots back to Varanasi. For generations, it’s here that a household has churned out quality javelin throwers in plenty.
A trend that started with Jagmohan Singh, a former national champion, was then carried on by the likes of Ramasaray Singh and Shivpujan Singh. Eventually, it has seen one of their own take the love for spears a bit further -- to the Olympics.
When javelin thrower Shivpal Singh, who achieved the Olympic cut in March, takes to the field at Tokyo 2020, he knows he will not only be competing for himself but for a generation of throwers who fell short taking the giant leap.
“Ye sapna hum sab ka tha (It’s a dream that all of us saw),” says Shivpal, explaining what it means for the Singh household to have one of their own at the Olympics.
“It seemed like everyone knew that I would qualify. There was never a doubt. Everyone back home knew making the cut for the Olympics shouldn’t be a problem for me.”
Shivpal Singh’s early days
Hailing from a family where every other guy took up the spear, it was no surprise that Shivpal Singh too was drawn into the sport very early. “My grandad was into javelin, my uncle, Jagmohan, is a former national champion and my dad (Ramasaray) and uncle (Shivpujan) were good too,” says the 24-year-old in a chat with the Olympic Channel.
“Now even my younger brother Nandkishore is a javelin thrower. He’s at the national camp and will join the Indian Navy this month. Two of my cousins are training in Etawah too. So, I don’t think it’s a surprise that I got into the sport.”
However, the reason why the youngster was rushed into the sport was a bit different.
“I was fat as a kid. Overweight, I would say,” he says. “I think I was around 12-13 when my parents decided to send me to my uncle in New Delhi. They just wanted me to be fit. Javelin was never a goal. One could say javelin was the byproduct since my uncle was a javelin thrower himself.”
For almost six years, javelin thrower Shivpal Singh would then train with his uncle. A navy officer, the early days along with uncle Jagmohan were anything but easy for the youngster. In fact, he describes it as ‘brutal’.
“I think, I still have some spikes marks,” the 24-year-old breaks into laughter narrating his story over a phone call.
“I still remember training in Palam (a major suburb and residential colony in South West Delhi). Everyone knows how harsh Delhi winters are. Now imagine training in that. You would have people with 2-3 layers covering themselves, while I would be out here sweating. It used to be that bad. I would feel really bad back then. But when I look back now, I think those days and that training is what’s made me the athlete that I am today.”
And Shivpal Singh is not wrong.
Shivpal Singh gets pumped up
Those hard yards eventually bore fruit as Shivpal Singh soon climbed up the ranks in the Indian domestic circuit to establish himself as one of the best in the disciplines. But injuries soon derailed this rise.
And it was not until 2019 that he truly staked his claim to be the best in the country. Even here, he was returning from an elbow injury. But this time with the legendary Uwe Hohn by his side, Shivpal Singh rose along with the spear.
Last year saw the Indian clinch a silver medal at the Asian Athletics Championships with a throw of 86.23 metres, compete against the best at the 2019 World Athletics Championships and then close off his campaign with another silver medal at the South Asian Games. The throw this time though, 84.16 metres.
WI got a bit carried away in Nepal. I realised I had done my knee in the second throw itself. I had decided to end my competition then. But when I saw the Arshad (Nadeem of Pakistan) go better than me, that pumped me up to go again. I think that was a mistake,” recollects Shivpal Singh, breaking into another spell of laughter.
A sore knee, however, hasn’t stopped Shivpal Singh from dreaming big. And with the German legend by his side, he believes crossing the 90-metre mark isn’t much far.
“I could have easily crossed the 90-metre mark at the Potchefstroom meet, par mera block (locking the non-throwing side of the body at the point of delivery) laga hi nahi (I just couldn’t get my block right). The javelin would just go off my hand in that motion.
“Anyway, I still have the Federation Cup,” he says referring to the athletics meet still scheduled to take place next month.
The javelin talk with Neeraj Chopra
But waiting for him at the Federation Cup will be the golden boy of Indian athletics, Neeraj Chopra.
Ever since breaking into the scene with his junior world record feat at the 2016 U-20 World Athletics Championships, the 22-year-old has gone on to build a reputation of a serial winner for himself.
For someone who comes across as a reserved person, Neeraj Chopra has often let his spear do the talking. Be it the Asian title or the gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, the Naib Subedar in the Indian Army has ignited a fan-following for not only himself but also for the sport of javelin in India.
But despite the success that’s followed the man, Neeraj Chopra has never let that hurt the bonds he’s forged on his way to the top. And Shivpal never hesitates in attesting to this. In fact, he believes Neeraj Chopra has helped him improve as a thrower.
“It’s great! I enjoy whenever Neeraj is around. First, you can have someone to compete against and then it’s quite fun. You get to talk javelin a lot. We discuss our techniques, what needs to be done to improve ourselves and so on. I have always enjoyed having him around. He’s a great guy to be with. We support each other a lot,” says Shivpal Singh.
With an ever-improving technique and the hunger to outdo himself at every possible instance, Shivpal Singh has surely spiced up the javelin competition in the Indian circuit. But can he challenge the best?
“Hum bhi wait kar rahe hai!!! (Even I am waiting)” he sign-offs with confidence.