Ready for the future: Javelin champion Manu sets the bar high

Prakash D Manu can be excused for being a little overwhelmed while taking on the cream of the crop at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. There were Asian Games medalist Arshad Nadeem, World Champion Anderson Peters, Olympic medalists Julius Yego and Keshorn Walcott. For Manu it was not only a big game, but also his first international encounter at any level. That’s how fast the 22-year-old has progressed this season, taking on the big names in the world and taking on India’s medal prospect in the absence of Olympic champion in Tokyo, Neeraj Chopra.

Manu took some time to gather himself, but quickly regrouped to focus on his throws and not be intimidated by the big names. After throwing the javelin to 84.35 at the National Inter-State meeting earlier this year, Manu wanted to give his personal best. He didn’t score his own goal, but finished in 5th place with an impressive 82.28m.

“If Neeraj Bhai had been there, it would have been different even for me. It would have given me more confidence. But it was my first time traveling abroad and representing India and this was a big opportunity for me.”

“They are all top pitchers and you can see them growing up. I’m not in that range, so I told myself not to get carried away and focus on giving my best. I felt restless because of my unfamiliarity. The food, the atmosphere was different. My coach (Kashinath Naik) was not by my side and I took online training plans from him. The result was a bit disappointing, but I know I’m just getting started.”

At the National Games, he carried that confidence with him and won gold with a roll of 80.71 ahead of Rohit Yadav, who was also with him in Birmingham. Last year, he consistently threw 75-76m and made a big leap forward this season. His dedication has been such that he has not taken a break for the past year while polishing his skills at the Army Sports Institute in Pune.

“It’s been an extremely good season and the Open Nationals are still here. I have improved a lot. It has all changed for me since I was recruited into the military in 2020. There wasn’t much support before that, but in Pune I get all the facilities for training.”

Former Commonwealth Games medalist Naik saw his talent and Manu made the most of every opportunity that came his way.

Javelin was not the first choice at his village school in the Hassan district. Manu loved volleyball and other sports, but fate had other plans. His school coach thought his physique was well suited to javelin throwing and threw him at a school game when he was in the 10th standard. From that day on, it was only the javelin throwing that occupied his mind.

He trained with a number of senior pitchers, picked up nuances by watching YouTube videos and learned the basics of the game.

“I was a volleyball player, but at one of the school meetings I got to throw the javelin and the physical education teacher liked it. I’ve been throwing the spear ever since,” says Manu.

He trained without a coach for the first few years and only after he was scouted by the army did his life take a turn for the better. Manu had to prove that by winning medals at the Khelo India.

It caught his attention. After Chopra already garnered attention by setting a record at the 2016 Junior World Championships, coaches went on the hunt for new talent. Services coach Naik waited for his performance in Khelo India before uttering a word for his inclusion in the Services team.

“When I first saw him his release angle was not good, strength was not good, body weight was less. So there were a lot of things to work on. But he was tall, had good explosive power, range and good speed. He threw good distances without any proper training,” says Naik.

Manu has moved up the ranks quickly and after a great year, he is gearing up for big tournaments next year – Asian Games and a qualifier for the world championships. He was recently added to the Target Olympic Podium Scheme. The Athletics Federation of India has given him permission to train with Naik at ASI Pune.

“This year he has started well in competitions and is mentally stronger. The good results have given confidence and there is a younger peloton to push each other. We need to work on his strength and technique. Next season we will prepare him to go beyond 85 meters constantly and the target would be 88 meters,” said Naik.

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