CHENNAI: His is not a sob story of a boy seeking deliverance and riches through sport. He is a typical Punjab story where everyone is born an athlete. Like a true-blooded Punjabi, Damneet Singh swears by tandoori chicken and lives on bhais ka doodh. Ghee is not something he craves for but loves to have sabjee and saag (vegetables). Hailing from Barnala, his Hindi words have a strong Punjabi accent. His coach is a Punjabi. No doubt, his coach Sukhraj Singh confesses: “Woh to pura desi athlete hai ji”.
Until Damneet was 12 years old, he was playing all other sports. He loved sprinting and playing football. His father Baldev was a national level pole vaulter. His friend Sukhraj was a coach in Barnala. That’s when they met. “It was five years ago when his father brought him to me,” Sukhraj tells Express from Barnala. “Initially, because he was 12 we did not immediately put him into throws. We encouraged him to play football and practice athletics.”
Those days hardened him as an athlete. “I never thought that I would be here winning a medal at the Worlds when I started athletics,” reveals Damneet from Nairobi where he became the first Indian U-18 athlete to win a silver in hammer throw. He used to be a good sprinter. “I have been doing well over the last couple of years and when I threw well in qualifying, I knew I would be winning a medal.”
Recalling his medal-winning stint, Damneet says: “I was aiming for my personal best. I had been throwing around 72m but achieving this distance here was quite inspiring. It will motivate me further to do well and target the Olympics,” he says, his voice quivering with excitement.
Sukhraj feels he can go up a level or two. “Our target is 78m in the seniors in the next two years,” he says. “He has done close to 75m in U-18 but that’s with 5kg hammer. He has to increase it to 6kg in junior (U-20) and then to 16 pounds (7.26kg) in senior. The transition will be critical.”
The two however, have ruled out going elsewhere for practicing. “I will continue practicing at home as of now because the results are satisfactory,” says Damneet. His coach is a believer in local cuisine. “One has to eat what is available locally. I have an MS in coaching and I believe it is always good to have local healthy food because our body is conditioned that way,” says the coach. “Not just physically, even mentally, we had to make him strong.
I was in contract with the Punjab government but I wanted something permanent so I joined school some 35km away around 2011-12.” That apparently upset the plan. Damneet was in Barnala and training got affected. “So I gave that job up and came back to Barnala,” says Sukhraj.
Since then, the two have been together. The two are now dreaming of bigger victories.