Annu Rani is one of the finest javelin throwers India has produced. She has won medals at the continental level and currently holds the national record of 63.24 meters achieved at the 2021 Federation Cup. Despite the COVID-19-induced break, Annu Rani is in a good place, physically and mentally, and is determined to do well at the Tokyo Olympics.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Annu Rani, who is sponsored by JSW sports, told us about her current form, past struggles, and aspirations from the Tokyo Olympics.
Zeroing in on javelin
Annu Rani started her athletics career as a discus thrower and a shot putter. After some time, she shifted her focus to javelin on her coach's advice. This proved to be a smart switch in her career as she ended up liking the latter more. Explaining in detail, Annu Rani said:
"Initially, I just wanted to get into sports. I started with discus and shot put for the first year. Then, my coach recommended me to choose javelin as well because there used to be a trophy for the athlete who used to win a gold medal in all these three throwing events. After that event, I started to like javelin more and developed a keen interest in it because it was lighter in weight and I felt that I could do much better in javelin than the former two"
"It has been more than 11 years now that I have been throwing javelin but I feel that the learning part is not over. javelin may look easy initially but it is one of the technically most difficult events. It requires a perfect coordination of speed, agility and strength."
Annu Rani has had a journey full of ups and downs
Annu Rani has had a challenging journey. After winning the bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games, she was expected to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
However, she failed to do so. Annu Rani struggled to find form in the 2018 season as well and finished 6th in javelin at the 2018 Asian Games, which she considers one of the lowest points in her professional career. Elaborating about her struggles, Annu Rani said:
"See, I've come across a lot of struggles from the start. Initially, my family didn't support me because of financial constraints. I didn't have enough equipment for training as well. Only after getting into NIS Patiala, I got the desired equipment, diet and good coaches."
She has had plenty of ups and downs in her career.
After coming back home with a medal from the 2014 Asian games, people started to recognize me. After the high of 2014, I went through a lean patch. 2018 was full of struggles for me. I was training very hard and I felt that I was in shape but due to some technical issues, I was not able to record good distances."
Annu Rani had a season's best of 58.17m in 2018 which was lower than her then personal best mark of 61.86 from 2017. She further added:
"All the struggles that I faced made me a much better athlete, both mentally and physically. I realized the mistakes I was making and came back with a much better mindset the following year. I did my personal best to qualify for the finals of the 2019 World Championships. That has been one of the highest points of my career alongside my bronze medal winning performance from 2014 Asian games."
Speaking about how she overcame one of the most difficult challenges in her professional career, Annu Rani said:
"No one was expecting me to qualify for the finals as my personal best back then was just around 62 meters. While, there were many athletes in the field with a best of 65 meters or more including previous Olympic champion and World Record holder. This made me believe that if you trust your abilities, you can achieve anything."
Coping with the COVID-19 pandemic
Annu Rani, like many other athletes, didn't manage to participate in a lot of events in 2020. She started the season with a couple of events in South Africa, after which sporting meets dried up. However, after that, Annu Rani didn't manage to participate in any event that year.
However, unlike many athletes, Annu managed to successfully overcome the COVID-19 wave without any dip in her form. Annu Rani added:
"Everyone felt the wrath of COVID-19 be it the common man or athlete. We were preparing for the Olympics at that time at NIS Patiala when the lockdown was announced. For almost an year after that we were stuck in NIS only."
She used various techniques to keep herself mentally steady and prepared for competition.
"It was more a mental challenge to cope with Covid because a sportsperson is not used to being inactive. We are always in competition mode. It is very difficult for us to just train and not compete. But, I tried to keep myself motivated by watching sports movies and documentaries after training hours."
Annu Rani is back to competition mode in 2021 with a bang
Annu Rani broke her own national mark of 62.43m, from the 2019 world championships, at the start of 2021, when she threw a distance of 63.24m at the Federation Cup.
"I had been training continuously without any gap in 2020. Currently, I am focused on achieving the automatic qualification mark of 64 meters for the Olympic Games. I very well know that I have made it to the Olympics via my ranking but qualifying for the Olympics with the automatic mark will be more satisfying."
Recently, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) procured the Kraft Training Great, or KTG, to enhance the performance of elite javelin throwers in the country. Installed at NIS Patiala, the German device assists throwers in improving their strength and speed.
Upon being asked if they are using that machine or not, Annu Rani replied that the machine will surely be helpful for improving the performances of the athletes. However, she went on to add that they do not want to make a lot of changes to their routine with the Olympics closing in and plan to use the machine after the Tokyo excursion.
Annu Rani further added:
"I'm very focused on improving my strength currently and mentally I'm preparing myself by not taking a lot of stress in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics. I'm not worried about my results because I know that I'm fully confident about my preparations. I just want to keep a free mind and give my best in Tokyo."
Preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics
In 2021, athletes such as Maria Andrejczyk of Poland and Hussong of Germany threw some great distances in European conditions. However, the humid conditions of Tokyo might not suit these athletes at the Olympics. Commenting on them, Annu Rani said:
"Javelin is a very technical event. It mostly depends on how your body is working on that particular day. However, if an athlete throws the javelin to a distance of 71 meters, you can't expect her to drop down to 62 meters. The conditions might bring them down to a 65-66 meters mark.
Annu Rani feels the humid conditions will suit her game.
But yes, the humid conditions will certainly favor us more. I very well remember that at 2019 World Championships, many athletes from Europe were not able to cope up with the hot and humid conditions of Doha. But, saying that, they are world-class athletes and would keep those experiences in mind."
Speaking about the lack of competition in 2021, Annu Rani said:
"Competitions give us a very fair idea of whether our training is paying any dividends or not. When you only train, you tend to believe that everything is going fine for you but it is only after competing only you get idea of where you need to improve."
She wants to focus on her training to improve her game.
"But, the current situation doesn't allow us to compete internationally. So, rather than complaining about lack of competitions, I want to focus on doing better in my training on a daily basis and hope for the best at the Olympics"
As for the rise of male Indian javelin throwers on the world stage, Annu Rani said that if an athlete does particularly well in an event, it pushes other athletes in the same event to do well as they get the same training, equipment and diet. This creates a sense of healthy competition among them.
Annu Rani sounded optimistic about her preparations for the Tokyo Olympics:
"I feel that I'm very well prepared for the Tokyo Olympics. I know that I'm very much capable of throwing 67-68 meters mark. I just need to focus on my technique and try to improve it as well. If I manage to do so, I know that I can hit that mark and hopefully it will be good enough to fetch me a medal at the Olympics."
Annu Rani is optimistic about the future of Indian athletics
Many Indian athletes have shown a lot of promise at junior and youth levels but tend to fade when they make a move towards the senior level. Annu Rani shared a word of advice for budding athletes:
"Many athletes who perform well at junior level can't keep themselves motivated. They enjoy the recognition they get for their performances and don't tend to work hard. Many a times, their careers are cut short by injury. They need a very good coach and a good physio as well to nurse their injury."
She wants India to develop a proper sporting culture.
"But now with the advent of Khelo India, many junior athletes are getting the care they deserve and their is a lot of improvent to be seen. We also need to develop a good sporting culture in our country. When we travel abroad, we see kids who are 4-5 years old on the ground practicing sports with a professional coach. If I can take my own example, I myself started at the age of 17-18 years."
She is also very optimistic about the future of Indian sports.
"We need to make sports compulsory at primary school level. Government is spending a lot for sports at the grassroots level. The kind of facilities, coaches and physios that are available to us are being made available to athletes who are doing well in junior-level meets. I'm very optimistic about the future of Indian sports."
A message to all the fans from Annu Rani
Annu Rani is looking to put her best foot forward for the Tokyo Olympics. She signed off by saying this:
"I want to thank all my supporters and fans for believing in my abilities. We work very hard for achieving good results but it is all the good wishes of all the fans that spur us on to do our best. I would like all my fans to positively support me, and I will give my best at the Tokyo Olympics."