IAAF World Athletics Championships 2017: Davinder Singh Kang let down by AFI's lack of support for final
Davinder Singh Kang threw below par to crush any hopes India had of a surprising podium finish in the javelin throw but to prepare for a World Championship final takes more than an individual’s effort
Battered, bruised, emotionally spent, and with a body held together by ‘kinesiotape’ and sheer will, India’s lone remaining athlete in the World Championships, Davinder Singh Kang, threw below par to crush any hopes India had of a surprising podium finish in the javelin throw.
Kang had not been in any particular red-hot form that there was any danger of the form book being turned upside down. In the qualifying, Kang had thrown 84.22m on his third throw to qualify for the final. In the qualifying, Kang was throwing on a sore and bruised shoulder. Later, he promised that he would give it his all.
With his ankle, hips and shoulders taped, Kang threw 75.40m in his first throw. The 5,000m, with British superstar Mo Farah running, was happening at the same time when Kang got ready for his second throw. He sprinted in, the javelin held just above his shoulder, and just when he was at the release point, Kang stopped in his tracks.
“My body was titling too much and if I had thrown, I would have been very badly hurt with the hip twisting away,” he later said. Yet with only 13 seconds to go in the throw, Kang shortened his run-up and threw only about 70m, which was promptly disqualified as he stepped over the line.
Meanwhile, other throwers were in form. Johannes Vetter threw 89.91m in his first throw; Thomas Rohler 87.08m and Keshorn Walcott 84.48m. In his second throw, Jacub Vadejch threw 89.73m and when Petr Frydrych threw 88.32m, all the medals had been decided. Davinder’s third throw 80.02m was an improvement but by then the Sikh javelin thrower had been pushed down the order, out of the final eight throwers, who had then received another three attempts.
Kang constantly looked to his left, at the javelin arena that he had left while coming into the mixed zone, a bee-hive of journalists and athletes. “I fought till the end,” said Kang. “If you see my body, you will only find tapes attached. I don’t want to give excuses but then I am still the thrower, who gets 80.02m on his third throw in such a condition.”
As Kang talked, the 100m hurdles silver medallist Dawn Harper Nelson walked in and US journalists pounced on her for the mandatory questions. Kang, unsure about how to phrase his next statement, says, “Not many even know that the AFI (Athletics Federation of India) didn’t want me to participate in the World Championships,” he says, slightly emotional at this stage. He again looks to his left, trying to compose himself. “They constantly called me asking me not to go to London, saying I won’t be allowed to participate here and that the IAAF would ban me.”
Kang explained how he tested positive for marijuana and that friends on Facebook checked everything and told him that he cannot be banned. “I explained to everybody how marijuana got into my system. But the AFI kept insisting that I should back away from London.”
Kang said that till a day before the team left for London, deputy chief coach RK Nair asked him not to go. “Don’t go or they will not let you participate,” Kang recalled being told. He went on to state how frustrating it was to go through such harassment. “But I have good friends who ensured that I didn’t break and supported me against the AFI,” explained Kang.
The Indian javelin thrower then narrated how he sat alone after the qualifying as nobody was there to make him understand what needed to be done in the final.
“I told Mr Nair that let Neeraj (Chopra) sit in the stands (behind where the athletes run in for their throws). After all, we train together and he knows how I throw so he will be of more help. But he didn’t agree. And he himself sat there. What will I ask him? In the last four years, he has never seen me train. What does he know about javelin? And even if he understands the technical point where I am going wrong, how will he help me with a solution? A coach who comes for one day during the World Championship is not a coach.”
Time and again, Kang veered back to the point that he let the nation down. And that it was the fans that sent him messages that he had disappointed.
“Yesterday, I sat alone in my room,” said Kang. “There was nobody with me. The AFI didn’t have the decency to send a good luck message. I am not saying that I would have won a medal. But you feel good that the federation is there. And you put in more effort. Here sitting in the room, I am pumping myself up for what is my biggest event. It is India’s moment in a World Championship final.”
The high jump women then passed behind Kang. Maria Lasitskene, who won the gold, was adjacent to him and was giving an interview to a Russian crew. She participated as a neutral here as Russia has not been allowed because of doping violations. Kamila Licwinko of Poland, who won the bronze, was seen speaking to an American network.
Could things have been different for Kang in the final? Unlikely. To prepare for a World Championship final takes more than an individual’s effort. This is not a kindergarten basic spelling test or a nursery school lesson in identifying animals in the book. This requires a team effort with a coach who understands what it means going into one of the most technical of sport finals.
Apart from knowledge of what makes Kang tick and what can lift him in a final, the knowledge of other athletes is a must. It’s not as simple as wearing a track suit and reaching the venue to run in and throw the javelin with one huge effort. Years of coach-athlete interaction lead to consistent results and medals.
Kang implores, rather pleads with me to visit National Institute of Sport, Patiala and see how things work. “The national coaches sit 200 metres away when the athletes are training,” he said. “There is no input. You are out there alone. If you stand up to them, you are isolated.”
Speaking about the vexing issue where he tested positive for marijuana, he said he explained to NADA (National Anti Doping Agency) and the federation that he didn’t take it voluntarily and had ingested it through a concoction taken from a ‘local doctor’, who had inserted a little ground bhang in it.
Kang explained how his body was heating up and he was bleeding from the nose. But he never realised that it might pop up in his urine sample and cause issues. WADA’s (World Anti-Doping Agency) ruling is quite clear on the use of marijuana, where it states that ‘the raising of the threshold is meant to catch only athletes who smoke during the period of a competition. The drug isn’t prohibited out of competition.’ WADA also said that because of changing laws and views about marijuana, and because the drug doesn’t have any obvious performance-enhancing qualities and neither did it help develop greater athletic skills, it isn’t much of an issue as it was in years past.
“If you Google my name, marijuana pops up next to it,” says Kang. “It is the job of the AFI to explain that marijuana is not a banned drug like others. Why is it the job of the athlete to keep doing all the explaining?," he asked.
The World Championships are over for Kang and for India. The 28-year-old is neither lamenting nor beating his chest. But that little crack in his voice, his face turned away, eyes moist; the baring of his soul is heartbreaking. His anguish reverberates the heartbeat and pain of thousands of Indian athletes.
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