Asian Games: Annu Rani pulls a gold out of the hat
The 31-year-old unleashed her best throw of the year to clinch India's first-ever gold in the women's javelin
Before the start of the ongoing Asian Games, Annu Rani had competed in seven competitions and had failed to lodge a single 60m-plus throw. Coming into Hangzhou, her season's best read 59.10m for a fourth-place finish at the Asian Championships in Bangkok in July.
So, when the experienced thrower ran in for her fourth attempt in Tuesday's 11-woman final, not many expected her to throw the 62.92 metres she eventually did. No one, apart from Annu. The throw was not only Asia's second-best of the season but also catapulted Annu into the gold medal position.
Annu began the competition with a throw of 56.99m but landed her first 60m-plus throw of the season with a 61.28m effort in the second attempt. A 59.24m was followed by 62.92m and 57.66m throws before she closed the competition with a foul. Sri Lanka's Nadeesha Dilhan Lekamge Hatarabage was next with a personal best throw of 61.57m while China's three-time World Championships bronze medallist Huihui Lyu finished third with a penultimate effort of 61.29m.
"I have not had a great year. Wherever I went, the results never came and this was supposed to be my last competition of the season. I wanted to give my everything today and end an otherwise disappointing season on a high," the 31-year-old said.
Fed up with her poor season, the national record holder -- she hurled the spear 63.82m at the Indian Open Javelin Throw Competition in 2022 to rewrite her own mark -- also contemplated retiring had the Asian Games not gone her way.
"I slipped into depression because of my poor performance. I worked really hard all through the season but the results were just not coming. There was so much pressure I put on myself... I knew my coaches and my country expected much better results," she said.
"Had I failed here, I would have perhaps taken a call on my career."
She didn't need to, because on Tuesday, as the country celebrated Parul Chaudhary's late push for gold in the 5000m event, Annu too found a late gear to unleash the winning throw.
"I have had a long season but I wanted to win a medal here at any cost. So, I just gave everything I had and hoped for the best. I am really happy with what I could achieve today," she said.
The Hangzhou gold is Annu's first Asian Games gold and her second Asiad medal overall. She also has an Asian Games bronze that she won in Incheon in 2014. Annu finished seventh at the 2018 Asian Games (53.93m) and won a bronze at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, making her the only woman javelin thrower from India to win a medal at both the Commonwealth and Asian Games.
"Frankly, I am quite surprised with the result. I have been trying my best but the results were not coming for a few years. I kept telling myself not to give up. That's the only trick I tried to get over my slump," she said.
With Annu having won the gold, the stage is perfectly set for Olympic and world champion Neeraj Chopra to make it an Indian sweep in javelin. Men's javelin event is scheduled for Wednesday with Chopra an overwhelming favourite to defend his crown. With compatriot Kishore Jena for company, an Indian 1-2 cannot be ruled out either especially with Pakistan's Arshad Nadeem being ruled out due to a persistent right knee injury.
Annu admitted that Chopra's success at the international stage inspires her to get better. "He is, of course, an inspiration. Whenever an Indian does so well at the world stage, it inspires all of us and Neeraj's success has done just that," she said.
Besides the high-profile men's javelin event, Avinash Sable and the men's 4X400 relay team will be in action on Wednesday making it another potentially productive day in track and field. Sable, fresh from his 3000m steeplechase gold, will aim to do a double when he competes in the 5000m event while Harmilan Bains and KM Chanda will compete in the women's 800m final.
India now have 15 golds at Hangzhou 2023 with the total haul rising to 69, including 26 silver and 28 bronze. That’s just one medal away from equalling their haul at the Jakarta Asian Games in 2018.