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From Puri to Paris: Javelin star Kishore Jena lives up to his warrior connect

Asian Games javelin silver medalist Kishore Jena hails from a region known for its brave warriors which once fought the British Army. Locals knew him as a stubborn child who used to bunk classes and throw bamboo javelins, now they offer pujas for his success.

From Puri to Paris: Javelin star Kishore Jena lives up to his warrior connect

On the morning of Kishore Jena's record-breaking throw in Hangzhou, the women of his village offered a puja at the local temple.


The Bridge Desk

Updated: 6 Oct 2023 11:45 AM GMT

The battleground was set and the ‘warrior’ was warming up. The stakes were high – it was a matter of pride and honour for India, as well as Odisha. Except the mighty sword was replaced by a javelin and the battleground was a stadium in Hangzhou, China. ‘Warrior’ Kishore Kumar Jena lived up to the expectations and clinched the silver medal at the Asian Games with a personal best throw of 87.54m and qualified for the 2023 Paris Olympics.

As hyperbolic as it may sound, the comparison of Kishore to a warrior is not completely far-fetched. A native of Kothasahi village in Brahmagiri area of Odisha’s Puri district, the lad comes from the land of ‘Paika Gadas.’

A walk down history reveals that the ‘Paika Gadas’ were a military establishment which recruited and trained young soldiers to fight the British Army in the historic Paika Bidroha or rebellion of 1817. Since then, the Paika warrior tradition has been kept alive through the ‘Paika Akhada’ or the school of martial arts.

Though Kishore might not have a direct linkage to the mighty Paikas, his family believes he owes his indomitable fighting spirit to the region.

“He is extremely strong-willed as a person. Even if the circumstances don't go in his favour, he would stay positive and try to fix it. He has the spirit of a Paika or a warrior,” Itishree, Kishore’s paternal sister who stays in his village, told The Bridge. Itishree’s father is a popular figure in the village and was involved in imparting Paika martial arts training.

The women in Kothasahi village offered a special prayer prior to Kishore's event at the Asian Games (Supplied)

When the youngest of the seven siblings won the silver medal, his village miles away from Hangzhou erupted in celebrations.

“We had a belief that he would win a medal. In fact, when he threw 86.77m in the third attempt and surpassed Neeraj Chopra, we thought a gold was on our way. We all started bursting crackers after that throw itself,” said Itishree, who stays in his village and takes care of his family in his absence.

“The women of the village had offered a special ‘puja’ in the local temple early that morning and prayed for his success,” she added.

Transition from Volleyball to Javelin - Touching 50m

Growing up, Kishore always had an inclination towards sports. That his sporting tendency was an excuse to skip school is a different story.

“He would bunk classes to go out and play with friends. When his father scolded him, he would threaten to run away from home. He was stubborn as a child, but is now using his stubbornness positively to win medals,” said Itishree.

Kishore played volleyball and represented his village in different tournaments. In 2015, he wanted to join the Centre of Excellence to pursue volleyball professionally. But destiny had other plans.

READ | Neeraj Chopra happiest to find he is no more alone at the top

To be eligible to enter, he needed to produce at least a district level certificate, which he didn’t have. Fortunately, he had a district-level certificate in javelin throw which confirmed his entry to the state sports hostel.

“When I first met Kishore, he didn’t even know how to hold a javelin. He had once attempted javelin throw for fun and by chance got a medal with a throw of little more than 50m. He had no clue about javelin at all but got enrolled as he cleared the eligibility criteria,” said Nilamadhab Deo, his coach at the sports hostel.

Amateur to Professional - From 50m to 65m to 80m

Initially, a bamboo javelin was all Kishore could afford. Eventually, he used one made up of aluminum. It took him some time to switch to professional equipment.

“Kishore’s advantage was his immense muscular strength. As a beginner, he grasped the techniques quickly and in less time, he could surpass the 65m mark,” Deo added.

Kishore Jena with his coach Samarjeet Malhi (Supplied)

Things changed for Kishore when he joined hands with former javelin athlete and his current coach Samarjeet Singh Malhi at NIS Patiala. Samarjeet, an Asian Athletics Championships bronze medalist, began working on his approach run and arch throw technique. Focus was also given on his workouts. For two years, the duo worked day in and out without any holiday.

“He didn’t go home for two years, nor complained that I was making him work so hard. His family too, put trust in me and encouraged Kishore to listen to what I say. They would call me and my wife to enquire about his training, and we became a family,” Samarjeet told The Bridge.

For Samarjeet, Kishore was more than a trainee. There is an attachment on a personal level which has made their bond even more special.

“The conversations with Kishore’s mother reminded me of mine. Just like his mother, my mother also wanted me to excel in javelin throw and win a medal. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2016. But I am sure she would be happy to see Kishore, who I have groomed, perform so well. Through Kishore, I am fulfilling my mother’s wish,” he said.

Prize Money & Olympics Dream - A meteoric rise beyond 80m

Kishore’s late bloom and dream run this year has raised hopes for an Olympic medal already. For someone who had not managed to cross 80m before this year, he has thrown the spear to 80m+ distances at seven competitions this year itself. At the Asian Games final on Wednesday, he crossed the 85m mark for the first time. Within a few minutes of that, he had reached 87.54m, his current personal best.

Soon after his medal win, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced a cash prize of Rs 1.5cr and has assured all support for his preparation for Olympics next year.

“I am happy that Odisha has come forward to support Kishore. The Olympics is definitely on our mind, but as a coach I am concentrating on his performance and consistency. Results will automatically follow. For now, once he returns, I am planning to give him a few days off to visit his family and share the medal with them,” Samarjeet concluded.

Given the meteoric rise Kishore Jena has enjoyed this year, who knows if he could even cross the 90m mark soon! The women of Kothasahi village, having found that the puja routine has worked like a charm for their favourite son, will be sure to continue the routine next season too.

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