“Initially, it would upset me that people thought I was poor in academics. As I look back now, I accept that I would never have been as good working in an office as I am at shot put.”
This is what Om Prakash Singh Karhana, India’s top shot-putter, had to say in regard to his initial longing to become an engineer, and his disapproval of the way people used to attribute his imposing stature to his unsatisfactory academic performance.
He began as a basketball player, representing his school at various national tournaments across the country. During one such event in Vijayawada, in the year 2004, Lalit Bhanot, the secretary of the Athletics Federation of India, recognized Om Prakash, the 17-year-old titan, who clearly stood out amidst the crowd.
“He asked me if I had ever competed in shot put. I lied and said that I had thrown the shot over 20 metres. I had no clue who he was or that the national record was 20.48 m. He must have known instantly that I was bluffing,” states Om Prakash, chuckling.
Lalit recognized Om Prakash as a potential athlete who could make his mark in shot put. Thus, Om was asked to enroll himself at the Salwan Throws Academy in Delhi at the earliest.
The idea of being a shot putter did not seem particularly appealing to the adolescent, and he decided to lend his focus towards academics. He enrolled at the Malwa College in Bhatinda, where he continued to play basketball. During his time in college, he pondered over his prospects in basketball, and this was when realization of his shot put potential dawned upon him.
He moved to Delhi in 2005, and, began training under the tutelage of Arnold Stasi, a coach from Belarus, at the Salwan Throws Academy.
Although the formative years at the Academy proved raspy, and his boisterous attitude was not encouraged by the management, he gradually developed a great a deal of discipline and passion towards this event. The inherent jejuneness during his school and college days has now been channelized into a routine which demands complete dedication. He trains six hours a day, six days a week.
Om Prakash hails from the village of Sohna, in the district of Bhiwani, Haryana. This is the same village which prides itself on having produced legendary Indian throwers like Anil Kumar and Shakti Singh.
Standing at 6’7” and weighing 135 kg, he holds the Indian national record in shot put of 20.69 metres which he achieved in May 2012 at Szombathely, eclipsing Shakti Singh’s 12-year-old national record of 20.42 metres. During this event he bettered the national record three times, and the throw of 20.69 metres also gained him a qualification for the 2012 London Olympics.
With a bronze at the 20th Asian Athletics Championships last year and the gold medal at the 6th Asian Indoor Athletics Championships in Hangzhou, China last month (with a heave of 19.07 metres), Om Prakash has proven to be a formidable force in Indian athletics.
With his steady improvement in performance, coupled with his dedication towards training, he stands to be one of the medal hopefuls for India at the 14th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, later this September.
Om Prakash is not one to get dismayed if there arise any irregularities related to facilities; instead, with a dash of optimism he states, “I don’t have any sad stories to share. If I’m not getting some facility, nor are the other athletes, but it doesn’t stop them from winning medals, does it?”
A Class 1 employee with ONGC and supported by the Olympic Gold Quest (a not-for-profit foundation to identify and support Indian athletes), Om Prakash is unquestionably one of the top Indian athletes to look out for, in the years to come.