From being in the shadow of javelin star Neeraj Chopra to being expected to step up and fill the void – that is how DP Manu’s world changed on Tuesday. Chopra’s pull out because of groin injury puts the other two throwers from India, Manu, who will make his international debut, and Rohit Yadav, in the spotlight at the Commonwealth Games. Yadav was 10th at the World Championships in Eugene with a best throw of 78.72 and is the more experienced of the two.
Manu’s progress this year marks him out as a special talent. An 84.35 metre throw in June at the Inter-State Senior Athletic Championships makes him the fourth-best in India, behind only Chopra, Shivpal Singh and Davinder Singh Kang. Manu crossed the 80-metre mark for the first time in March this year with 82.43m at the Indian Grand Prix in Thiruvananthapuram.
Twenty-two-year-old Manu is also blessed with quick arm speed, a natural trait of Chopra’s. His block of the leading leg has vastly improved as he does not bend it as much as before, coach Kashinath Naik says. About an inch taller than Chopra, Manu has improved his upper body strength over the past two years, one of the reasons the youngster from Hassan in Karnataka has been able to cross 80 metres this season, Naik, the 2010 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, says.
“He has also worked on the angle of release of the javelin. It used to be over 45 degrees, which is not great. Now it is between 35 and 40 degrees. Just by doing that he has improved by four to five metres. He has both explosive strength and speed. He was very strong in his lower body. He needed to build upper body strength and that has been done. Earlier, his snatch used to be 55 kg now it is 85 kg. Step by step, he will improve further,” Naik adds.
Another physical trait that Manu has going for him is his long arms, or what Naik calls ‘reach’. His arm length is about 86 centimetres, longer than the average of people of his height, and combined with arm speed it gives Manu an advantage. However, when Naik first heard about Manu, he punted on him. Almost blindly.
At the 2019 Khelo India Games, Manu had won gold and registered a throw of 66 metres in the Under-21 category. The distance wasn’t special but a thrower from Karnataka winning gold was rare. Naik’s curiosity piqued. Naik wasn’t at the venue on the day Manu won gold but he heard from other throwers that Manu was tall and was fast on the runway. The next day, Naik got Manu’s phone number and spoke to him.
“He told me his standing jump was 3.5 metres, which is good. He also didn’t have a specialised coach but had still managed a 65 metre plus throw. I felt he was someone with potential,” Naik says.
Ironing out flaws
Naik, who coaches at the Army Sports Institute, convinced the officers to give Manu a trial. “We already had Neeraj (Chopra) in the army and he threw close to 90 metres. So I was asked why do we need someone who is throwing only 66. I told my seniors to give me four days to iron out some technical flaws and then conduct the trials,” Naik says.
At the trials, Manu improved to 70 metres and soon he appeared for the exam to enrol as a sepoy. His army dreams hit a roadblock when he failed the paper. But at the Senior Inter-State Championships in Lucknow in 2019, he registered a throw of 76.24 metres and won silver. Yadav had won the gold.
“On the basis of the throw at Lucknow he was recruited as a havildar. He didn’t have to write an exam because if an athlete throws 75 to 76 metres and is seen as someone with genuine potential he can be enrolled in the army if he passes the medical, completes some paperwork and formalities. On June 31, 2020, he joined the army,” Naik says.
Before Manu joined the army he weighed about 74 kilograms. He was tall but thin, is how Naik describes Manu before a change in diet filled him out. “Weight gainer protein, ghee, dry fruit shake is what I fed him in addition to the healthy diet. He was too thin for this height. Now his weight is just right and he is strong too.”
Naik believes Manu can improve his personal best at the Commonwealth Games. “All I told him was to throw more than 84.35 metres at the Commonwealth Games. He is capable of doing that. Another thing he needs to focus on is his block. It is much better than before but at times there is a slight bend in his leg (leading leg on landing before release). If he gets his bend right, the distance will improve.”