When Shivpal Singh preparing for his first throw at the Asian Championships, for a fleeting moment, his mind went back to last year’s Asian Games.
“All I was thinking was that day when I was injured in Jakarta,” Shivpal says. “That was so frustrating, disappointing.”
In Jakarta, Shivpal was unable to compete after his first throw. That was the end of his medal hopes and he left the stadium in tears.
Seven months later, those tears were turned into joy when the 23-year-old won a silver medal at the Asian Championships in Doha with a personal best throw of 86.23 metres. India were represented by two throwers and while Shivpal finished second, Davinder Singh Kang – bronze medallist in the previous edition – finished at the bottom.
The gold medal went to Cheng Chao-tsun of Chinese Taipei, who threw 86.72 metres while Japan’s Ryohei Arai bagged the bronze medal with a throw of 81.93 metres.
“I was angry about missing out in the Asian Games. Vo sab nikal diya [I vented that anger over here]. I am completely fit right now and this medal is proof of that,” he says.
The medal was long time coming for someone who took up the sport at an early age. Shivpal was born in a family of javelin throwers and his father was a state-level competitor. His uncle and coach Jagmohan Singh was a 10-time gold medal winner in Services.
Battling international woes
Shivpal, though, had failed to make an impact at the international level. Before the Asian Championships, his biggest win was the gold at the Budapest Open athletics meet with a throw of 76 metres.
But on Monday, he was in a different league. Shivpal set the tone for the competition with his first throw, where he threw the spear 80.89 metres away. In the next, he bettered it by almost six metres to clinch the medal. While his third throw did not count, he threw 79.96 m, 81.39 m and 77.48 m in the remaining attempts.
“The Chinese Taipei guy has thrown 90-plus so the competition was good, and I wanted to push myself as well. I wanted to break the national record but fell just short of it,” he says.
The Varanasi lad was 1.83m shy of Neeraj Chopra’s national record of 88.06m, which the Commonwealth and Asian Games champion achieved in Jakarta. Shivpal is glad he managed to qualify for the World Championships in September, which will be held at the same venue.
“I should have done that at the Federation Cup only. But I missed it by centimetres (he threw 1.15 metres less than the qualifying mark). A miss is a miss.”
Though he fell short in Patiala, he raised hopes of a medal at Asian Championships. In the last three months, Shivpal has breached the 80-metre mark five times and he credits his injury free body for the improvement.
“I am feeling super fit and my friends keep saying to me that I should not tell anyone that because i will pick an injury again,” he says. “But improved training under coach Uwe Hohn has helped me. I have worked hard on weight training. Everything helped.”
The 23-year-old took his time to replicate his performances from the training ground to competitions. “I was throwing 86 metres in training but there [during training] you are free. You get a rhythm once and you go on improving that. It’s difficult to do that in competition as there are breaks as well as expectations,” he admits.
‘My uncle is very happy now’
The burden of expectations hurt him at Federation Cup as well as he could have cleared the world championships mark there, but fell short. “I thought it was of support. Your friends are cheering for you....but I realised you get overexcited, like me. I have to control that,” Shivpal had said then.
In Patiala, Shivpal was throwing after recovering from the elbow injury and the camp in South Africa. It was this training camp which helped him make the big change in his performance.
“In South Africa, I was thinking that the training was not good because our coach Hohn did not let us throw,” he says. “I was very disturbed. He would say no every time I asked him, but now I realised what his strategy was.
“I worked on my strength and improved on my lifts. All that helped me now. I also met [three-time Olympic champion] Jan Zelezny there.”
Like Chopra, the legendary javelin thrower is also Shivpal’s role model. While Chopra learnt the the tricks of the sport from one of his seniors, Shivpal was trained by his uncle. Jagmohan would take a young Shivpal to the Air Force ground in Palam and ask him to practice throws.
“He was my coach and was very strict. If you see my thighs, you will see the marks. He used to hit me with spikes. But his discipline made me who I am. He also taught me cross-legged run-up, which is my strength,” he says.
Shivpal is happy that he managed to bring a smile on his uncle’s face with this medal. “Another uncle of mine, who was with the CRPF died of a heart-attack and I am very afraid of Jagmohan uncle. But he is very happy now.”
But there is one more person Shivpal says would have been very happy to see him progress. “My mother was in hospital and I would visit her. My family urged me to focus on the game. We lost her in 2015 because of cancer. I was so sad. Now, whenever I throw, I think ‘ki mummy dekh rahi hai’ [My mum is watching me].”