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Asian Games

Annu Rani wants her long-awaited gold medal to inspire village girls to break free

Annu Rani had already created many firsts in Indian sports, but has been in poor form. At the Asian Games javelin throw final on Tuesday night, she surprised everyone, including herself, as she achieved something that had eluded her for 13 years - her 1st ever major international gold medal.

Annu Rani wants her long-awaited gold medal to inspire village girls to break free
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Annu Rani on way to winning her first major international gold medal at the Asian Games (AGNS)

By

Dipankar Lahiri

Updated: 3 Oct 2023 6:59 PM GMT

Hangzhou: It was another medal rush for Indian athletics at the Asian Games here on Tuesday, but the grandstand finish came at the twelfth hour. Annu Rani, who has been going through her worst season in five years, came up with her best throw in 17 months to clinch India's first-ever Asian Games gold in women's javelin throw.

"I was depressed and struggling with my performance all year. This was my last competition of 2023 and I just wanted to give it my all. This is an international gold medal for me finally. If this is possible, then anything else is. I have thrown 64-65 metres in practice... nothing seems impossible now. I want to do this at the 2024 Olympics," the 31-year-old Annu Rani told The Bridge.

A 65-metre throw would well and truly place Annu among the medal places at the Paris Olympics to give Indian women an equivalent of Neeraj Chopra's Tokyo moment, but for now, Annu Rani is just relieved she has been able to show the world she has not lost the ability to breach the 60m mark.

"I surprised myself with this gold medal. I was giving it my all in training, but life has ups and downs. Nothing was going right for me, I thought I would give up javelin when I threw just 52 metres in Germany last month," Annu said.

"The government spends so much money on us, it is a mental responsibility. If it doesn't happen, you wonder if you have it in you after all. But then I thought I would fight till the end," she said.

And fight till the end is what she had to do in the final at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium on Tuesday night. She moved to the top of the leaderboard with a 61.28m throw on her second attempt. If however, the relief of having breached the 60m mark came over her, it soon evaporated as she was pushed down to second spot by Sri Lanka's Dilhan Nadeesha, who registered a new personal best of 61.57m.

But Annu had tasted blood and she had to make it her night.

She was already a pathbreaker in Indian sports - the first Indian woman to cross 60m, the first Indian woman to win an international javelin medal at the Commonwealth Games, and the current national record holder - but she had to complete the one achievement that has remained out of her reach in her 13-year career - an international gold medal.

Annu Rani shows off her gold medal outside the Asian Games venue

On her fourth attempt, as the night came to a close and the Indian national anthem rang out for Parul Choudhary's 5000m gold on the track, the moment finally came. With a 62.92m throw, her best of the season, Annu broke free from the rest of the field.

Breaking free from chains of village life

The daughter of a farmer from Bahadurpur village in Uttar Pradesh, Annu Rani wants her gold medal to inspire girls from her village to break free from the chains of patriarchy.

"Life is short. What is it worth if you cannot live it on your terms," Annu Rani said as she spoke about the hardships she has come through - like travelling on train floors and borrowing money from neighbours to buy her training kit.

As a child, she had to secretly practise javelin throwing in the farms of her village as she could not let anyone know her ambitions. When her father finally came to know, he burst into a fit of anger, asking who had given her permission to play.

"Things are very bad for girls in villages everywhere. If a girl wants to achieve something, she is stopped, saying something bad will happen. They are ridiculed if they wear sports clothes. They are expected to marry by the age of 21 and then live the rest of their lives taking care of their husbands and babies. Their freedom is cut short. Many bad incidents happen in married life too," Annu said.

"Things are still the same in my village as they were. I wish my gold medal motivates girls from there to escape their lives and show everyone what they can do - like I did. I fought to convince my family, they slowly came around, you have to fight, you cannot give in. You should give it your all to get the freedom to stand on your own two feet," she said in her message.

"I do not bear any anger towards those who had tried to stop me, they were just not aware. I wish parents let their children live their lives to the fullest, believe in them, and let them go out to live their own lives," she said.

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