Since Anju Bobby George’s historic bronze medal in long jump at the 2003 World Championships, very few Indians have managed to scale such a lofty height in the world of athletics. One of those few who have consistently been in the thick of the action at many prestigious tournaments is discus thrower Vikas Gowda.
This 6’ 9’’ 32-year-old Mysore-born but US-based athlete currently holds the national record by virtue of his massive throw of 66.28 meters at Norman, USA, in 2012. His biggest claim to fame, however, came at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow where he scooped up the gold medal after achieving a distance of 63.64m.
The circumstances under which it was accomplished made his efforts even more laudable. Incessant rain proved calamitous for many of the medal contenders as they struggled with the grip.
But it could not deter Gowda and it thoroughly showed his readiness and his ability to adapt to any kind of weather conditions. It was a staggering feat considering no one from India had been able to lay hands on an athletics gold at the Commonwealth Games since the legendary Milkha Singh at the 1958 Cardiff Games.
After having to remain content with a silver medal at home at the 2010 Delhi Games, this was surely a moment to treasure for Gowda.This was his second consecutive gold at a major meet after clinching the yellow metal at the 2013 Asian Championships at Pune.
That win spurred on the best phase of his career as he subsequently added the Commonwealth gold, the Asian Games silver and another Asian Championships gold within a span of two years.
Association with sports from childhood
Vikas’ inclination towards athletics from a young age is not surprising. His father, Shive had been a decathlete and the coach of the Indian Olympic track team for the 1988 Seoul Games. It goes without saying that he had laid the foundation for Vikas’ journey into sports and also became his first coach.
After moving to the USA at the age of five, ‘the track’ had initially been Vikas’ focus and the young Gowda started out as a talented long jumper. However, it was his growth spurt that prevented him from continuing with it any longer and he had to turn his attention to the throwing events.
His tall and bulky build was apt for the throws and Vikas began to indulge in both shot put and discus throw till 2006. In between, he finished his graduation in Mathematics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and emerged as the 2006 US NCAA National Champion in discus throw.
Joining forces with John Godina
That probably gave him more confidence to switch totally to discus, and look for ways to excel in it. In 2009, he took an important decision that ultimately made him one of the elite performers. He enrolled at the state-of-the-art John Godina World Throws Center in Arizona to improvise his technique with expert guidance.
Godina, the triple World Championships gold medallist not only helped to plug the loopholes but he also agreed to travel to the biggest competitions. The American taught him to schedule his season properly so that he can peak at the right time.
The Olympic Gold Quest, a Mumbai-based not-for-profit organization too lent their hand and contributed to his funding.
The new partnership worked wonders, and in 2012, he became the first Indian to qualify for the discus final at any Olympic Games. He eventually finished in the eighth place before entering his career’s most fruitful phase in 2013.
Gowda’s throws, however, have recently suffered a slight dip as he sets his eyes on the Rio Olympics. At the 2015 Beijing World Championships, he could only secure the ninth place after managing a distance of 62.24m. It was way below his 2013 Asian Championships gold-winning throw of 64.90m.
Toughest competitors from Poland
He is currently placed at the fifth position in the IAAF World Rankings and is the highest-ranked Asian. His toughest competition is very likely to come from the two Polish throwers at the helm of the rankings.
Piotr Malachowski and Robert Urbanek both have been throwing consistently over 65m and they captured the gold and the bronze respectively at the World Championships last year.
Gowda could only qualify for Rio Olympics when the IAAF relaxed its rules and lowered the qualifying distance to 65m from its previous criterion of 66m. The Indian would need to ensure that he reaches the 65m more often as he gears up for the Games.
In one of his interviews, Gowda spoke about the similarity between his two passions – mathematics and discus throw – “If you don’t get it the first time, you go back to it again and again till you do.”
Perhaps that is exactly what he is doing now.