Even before the first throw in the women’s javelin final at the Federation Cup, it was a foregone conclusion that Annu Rani would take home the gold. The only question that mattered was if she could clear the 64m Olympic qualification mark.
On Monday, at the competition in Patiala, the Uttar Pradesh athlete’s third and best throw measured 63.24m. The Olympic berth was still 76 cm away, but she did rewrite her own national record for a staggering eighth time in her career.
The 28-year-old first broke the national mark in 2014 with a 58.83m throw and has since been rated the finest women’s javelin thrower the country has produced. Her latest mark is a notable improvement on the 62.43m she set in 2019. Such is the gulf between Annu and rest of her competitors that, on Monday, the next two throwers to finish on the podium, Sajana Chaudhary and Sharmila Kumari, managed a distant 54.55m and 50.78m respectively as their best throws on the day.
The gold was comfortably bagged, but she still feels the need to “work on her technique” to add the distance to secure a ticket to Tokyo. And she’s confident of doing so.
“This is just another national record, I will break it again soon and eventually qualify for the Games,” she said flatly after setting the new record.
Many congratulations to #TOPSAthlete #AnnuRani for setting a new national record of 63.24m in the women’s javelin throw at the Federation Cup in Patiala. She surpassed her own previous record of 62.43m set in 2019.
*Subject to ratification pic.twitter.com/1EDvh9JLP8
— SAIMedia (@Media_SAI) March 15, 2021
“It is a step by step process and nothing happens overnight. In the last year or so I have been working a lot on my technique and there are still a lot of areas to improve on.”
‘Not explosive enough’
Dr Klaus Bartonietz, a German biomechanics expert who works with national campers along with chief javelin coach Uwe Hohn, echoes Annu’s views. He was closely monitoring her throws and admitted he was not impressed.
“She needs to add more pace to her run-up. Annu needs to come into an active impulse stride (second last step before the throw is made) to come into a good throwing position,” he explains.
“Her arm is going deep, making the javelin tilt up. It has to be corrected – the arm up and the javelin down. The javelin should ideally be around the eye level.”
The seasoned thrower was cheered on by fellow-campers, including the men’s champion thrower Neeraj Chopra, at the National Institute of Sports. Just like her peers though, Annu’s training was hampered severely by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown.
“We athletes are used to a very active lifestyle and the lockdown felt very uncomfortable. From training seven hours a day to being holed inside a room was frustrating,” she says.
“Now that the things have eased I will be working on improving my distance at the upcoming meets in May.”
The Meerut-native hasn’t visited home for over a year. But her family has done its own bit to ensure any degree of homesickness is quelled by at least one member of the household making the trip to attend her domestic events. Her elder brother made the trip to the Federation Cup.
“My family says they are my lucky charm,” she adds lightly. “Whenever they come I break a national mark.”
The one family member who may cause her distress – because of her performance – is her father. By her own admission, he’s often harder to please than her coaches.
“He said ‘it’s good you rewrote the national mark again,’” Annu describes the post-event phone call on Monday. “‘But you could have done better and made the cut for the Olympics.’”
The next time she enters a tournament, she’ll target just that.