Bengaluru, Dec. 21: In a country where cricket has stolen the limelight for years, India’s show in the Tokyo Olympics gave athletics a much-needed boost.
Though Neeraj Chopra's gold medal lifted the sport to unparalleled heights, there’s still a long way to go, feels World Championships finalist Davinder Singh Kang, who missed the recent edition of the Olympics.
In an edition where his fellow javelin player, Neeraj Chopra, took the sport to the pinnacle, winning gold in the Tokyo Games, Kang missed out due to his involvement in a doping case.
The National Anti-Doping Agency’s disciplinary panel was looking into a prohibited specified substance but the decision, though in his favour, came too late for the javelin thrower as he missed out on a big opportunity. Kang missed the final qualification event for the Olympics.
Describing that as the lowest point of his journey so far, the Asian Championships bronze-medallist said with the ban being lifted he wants to put it behind him and shift his focus on qualifying for next year’s World Championship, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
In this exclusive interview with mykhel, Kang opens up about his struggles, Chopra’s Olympic gold, the growth of athletics amongst several other things.
Overcoming a difficult phase in his life, the javelin thrower said, 'every experience teaches you and makes you stronger’.
What made you choose the sport? At what age did you pick up your first javelin?
Sports has been a constant part of my growing up years and it has always piqued my interest. When I was in ninth grade, my school hosted a sports competition that included kabbadi, volleyball, kho kho, and javelin throw as part of the competition roster. This was the first time I saw and held a javelin stick. I asked my school Principal if I could try my hand at javelin throw, but she declined and asked me to focus on kabbadi as I was good at it. But I was insistent and she finally agreed. That was when I threw my first javelin to a distance of 49 metres.
In a country where cricket has stolen the limelight, how tough is it for an athlete to pursue another sport? Take us through the struggles you personally faced and also the difficulties athletes face in your field?
In India, being a sportsperson is not easy, and to be successful in sports, a person goes through many struggles whether it is cricket or any other sport. I feel the private sector should come forward to support the athletes and foster a strong sports culture in India along with the Government.
Currently, there is a dearth of high-quality sporting infrastructure in cities beyond a few. The government has built some good stadiums in urban areas, but the situation in rural areas is dire. Practice and development then means traveling vast distances or making do with make-shift setups that do not prepare athletes for international competitions properly.
I personally enjoyed playing cricket as well. I have won more trophies in cricket than medals in athletics. While playing for a school competition, even after delivering a good performance I wasn't selected to be a part of the team this is when I picked up the javelin.
Tokyo Olympics was a landmark edition with Neeraj Chopra picking up gold. Do you see youngsters venturing into the sport more?
Javelin throw has never been a popular sport in the country, but Neeraj Chopra's spectacular victory has brought it to the limelight for sure. It was a historic day, and the impact of his victory will undoubtedly inspire aspiring athletes to pursue their dreams of bringing glory to the nation. This will also open more doors for candidates who are already pursuing this sport and for that we are all grateful to him.
For me also getting information about javelin throw was very difficult. Initially I used to visit cyber cafes, research and seek information. In our country, there is a lack of awareness about sports. Recently I have started using social media to spread awareness and teach enthusiastic youngsters about sports and athletic events. I believe platforms like Moj are really changing the ways in which we are getting information via social media.
Talking about the facilities available for athletics and especially javelin, has it improved over time? What more do you think the associations can do to help grow the sport?
Over the years, I have witnessed improvements in how javelin athletes are treated in the country, but there is still room for improvement. Before the Olympics, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) installed two special strength-building German machines called the Kraft Training Great for training purposes. So, I believe that such continued support from associations is required to make javelin a popular sport in India.
Being in the same sport, seeing history being created at the Olympics, what were your thoughts at that moment? How do you think this will change your sport?
I am really proud of Neeraj for claiming glory during his Olympic debut. We have spent a lot of time training together, we share a brother like bond. So his victory was extra special for me. Hopefully, his success prompts more and more youngsters to take up the sport, and the government and associations to support budding athletes. International recognition always helps further a cause, be it sports or any other field. This instance shall be no different hopefully.
How have you kept yourself motivated over the years?
I have always considered my injuries and hurdles as an opportunity for growth. After every low moment, I've roared back by setting new records, giving my best performance, and winning medals, so the best part is that I am good at self-motivating. And I never give up. The thought of making it to the big championship or being the best performer really lights me up and that brings with it the perseverance I need to keep moving, keep improving and getting to my goal.
The highs and lows of your career?
The day I became the first Indian to qualify for the final round of the Javelin World Championship with a throw of 84.22m was undoubtedly the high point of my career. Prior to this, no Indian had ever qualified for the final round at a world championship in the men's javelin throw.
As an athlete, my lowest moment was when in August 2019, my sample report returned positive for beta dexamethasone, a substance banned under the World Anti-Doping Code. I was on medication for throat and ear infection and it turned out the chemical was a part of the medication I was put on. I was relieved when after a very long and hard 14 months, the disciplinary panel announced the verdict in my favour allowing me to return to competitive events. Another instance was in 2018 - my reports were tampered with and I was falsely accused of anabolic steroids consumption. This allegation really shook me as I treat my sport with the same purity as one treats worship.
You missed out on the Olympics this year. How did you deal with the allegations charged on you for the consumption of beta dexamethasone?
I was heartbroken by the humiliation and the stigma that came my way in the wake of the doping charges. While my anxiety was managed thanks to the counsel of my local doctor, my family’s prestige and honour was completely ruined because of the allegations. This was the part I had to work the hardest to overcome. Thankfully, my family and close friends supported me throughout and I am indebted to them for it.
I am grateful to NADA (National Anti Doping Agency) for giving me justice, though it was a bit delayed as I missed out on the Olympics. But I have full faith in God and hope to achieve greater heights in the future.
What have you set your eyes on next? Mentally how do you put the missed time and opportunity behind you and move forward?
My goal now is to overcome this excruciating period of my life and work harder to prove myself. Now that the ban has been lifted, I want to qualify for next year’s World Championship, Commonwealth and Asian Games and for that I am setting myself clear short term goals to keep myself motivated. Whatever I seek to achieve next is larger than me – it is for my family and friends who have been by my side through thick and thin. What better motivation can there be?
Your biggest takeaway?
My takeaway from these experiences are now in the form of larger learnings that I wish to abide by. There are three things I’ve decided never to err on:
1. Be disciplined
2. Always respect your juniors and seniors
3. Never give up in life
What are your upcoming tournaments? How's your preparation going?
The three upcoming tournaments which I am preparing for are World Championship, USA; the Commonwealth Games & the UK and Asian Games, China. My preparations are on track and I hope to deliver.
Any regrets? Anything you could have done differently?
I don’t have any regrets. Every experience teaches you and makes you stronger. I did everything I could to expedite my hearing for the doping case. I'm relieved that it's all behind me now and wish only to look forward.
Your experience on Moj:
I joined Moj almost a year ago, and the platform has become an essential part of my life now. I am really happy that I share my life, training sessions and workout regimes with my Moj family of 480.5K followers. Through my presence on the platform, I hope to inspire the country's youth, get them into sports and make this world more accessible. If not I hope to make their lives better by sharing some health tips and tricks that I have picked up over the years as an athlete.
Lastly, your message to the youth of the country:
My only message to the youth of this country is to never give up on your dreams. Work hard and make your country proud.