Just five days after he broke the national record in U20 category, Nitesh Poonia is back at his training ground in Sadulpur. Even the chill of early morning could not be used as an excuse by him. Not even Diwali. For the last eight years, nothing has.
“If I am here and fit, the stadium is the only place I will be in the mornings and evenings. I began my career from here and I have trained here. The only difference I have seen is that people recognise me,” Poonia says.
The recognition for Poonia was due. On Sunday, he became the first Indian to cross the 80-metre with the 5kg hammer and with a 81.47-metre throw, created a new national record at the 34th Junior Athletics Championships in Ranchi. He bettered the previous record of 75.04m set by Ashish Jakhar with a 6kg ball.
But the 17-year-old is not surprised by his performance in Ranchi. For the last two years, he has been setting small targets for himself and trying to achieve them by the end of the year. The records took care of themselves.
“The day of competition is the best to plan. I have been throwing above 80 metres in training but I cannot go on and say that I’ll throw that in every competition. But I targetted the 80-metre mark and did not think about the record. It’s a great finish to the year. But now it’s done. Now I want to give good performances with heavier hammers,” says the 5’11” athlete.
The throw has also put him in the list of top throwers at the U-18 level. He now owns the fourth best distance in the world in that list, which is headed by Ukraine’s Mykhaylo Kokohan, who managed 87.82m in Hungary in July.
Jaswant Poonia sees this achievement as just the beginning of a very successful career. The coach, who has trained Nitesh for more than seven years, explains his improvement as a result of dedicated training and commitment.
“When you meet him, he will appear as a happy go lucky guy. But he is a very good trainee. He never skips practice and while others try to increase power, he has focused more on technique,” says Jaswant.
Jaswant has been a father figure for Nitesh since he joined the stadium. 16 years ago, Nitesh had lost his father in an accident. He has never asked his mother about the accident because it only disturbs him. If ever there was a feeling of sadness or regret, Poonia used it as motivation at the ground.
“I haven’t thought about it but I have just used it as a motivation. I thing sports also helped me. I went to the stadium to get fit. I did everything from volleyball, kabaddi to jumps and throws. But Jaswant sir told me to try hammer and I liked it. The technique and the way it was done was different. So I stuck to it. There was the 2kg ball in 2012 and then I moved up to 4kg and in 2014 I was throwing the 5kg hammer,” he says.
The change in the weight of the ball also brought new challenges but Poonia tried to be consistent at every level. He first shone at the U-16 category at the National Junior Athletics Championships in Coimbatore with a throw of 66.70m. He bettered that throw with 69.47m at the national Youth Athletics Championships. That was enough for him to win a silver. He won a bronze medal at the Asian Youth Athletics Championship in Bangkok where he threw 69.76m.
“He has seen great progress and he will be the top thrower in India. I know that facilities here aren’t the best but he fails to adjust to any other centre. We will try some European training camps if we get some help from the government,” Jaswant says.
The sport has been a burden for Poonia’s family. His mother, a government teacher, has been paying for his younger brother’s education and taking care of his grandparents at home. But to fund Poonia’s training, they ask for help.
“There is no pride. The European countries have juniors doing so well because they care about youngsters. I have a mother who is earning around 30000 rupees and she has to take care my brother studying in 12th and grandparents. How am I supposed to ask for money?”
Citing the example of javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, he says that everyone rallied behind him only after he won the U20 World Championships. “I know Chopra bhaisahab did it at the world level and there is no point comparing but he got everything after he broke that record. What if he had got the support before that? It’s the same in hammer.”
But Jaswant doesn’t want to get into practice for asking for help. He believes it will come to Nitesh itself, most probably next year.
“There is School Games in January and I’m sure he will break his own record there. Then there is the Junior Federation Cup in April or May and he will break the record with the 6kg hammer. People will take notice. Fir se dhuan uthega,” he says.