Updated December 26th, 2023 at 16:09 IST

Exclusive/ The man who almost defeated the 'unbeatable' Neeraj Chopra: Meet Kishore Kumar Jena

Kishore Kumar Jena, hailing from Odisha, has quickly risen in ranks and shown his prowess in the event that Neeraj Chopra has made his own.

Reported by: Yash Bhati
Neeraj Chopra and Kishore Kumar Jena during Asian Games 2022 | Image:Press Trust of India
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At the Asian Games, Indian fans were glued to their screens as they hoped for Neeraj Chopra to continue his golden run in tournaments. Everyone expected a gold medal from Neeraj. However, there was a moment in the javelin competition which left everyone stunned. Neeraj was trailing after three throws and it wasn't an international athlete giving a tough fight to the champion athlete but a little-known athlete from India. 

Kishore Kumar Jena, hailing from Odisha, has quickly risen in ranks and shown his prowess in the event that Neeraj has made his own. Jena threw 86.77m in his third attempt which was 2.28m ahead of Neeraj's best throw. It almost seemed as if the impossible could take place and Neeraj could be usurped by an Indian athlete in javelin. 

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However, usual service resumed as Neeraj showed why he is the 'Golden Boy' of India as managed a mammoth throw of 88.88m in his fourth attempt to take the gold medal at the Asian Games. Jena, however, continued to impress as he threw his personal best of 87.54m in his fourth attempt. To throw perspective on the importance of that number, we need to remember that Neeraj threw 87.58 at the Tokyo Olympics to bag the historic gold medal. 

So 27-year-old Jena can grab an Olympic medal if continues to reach the levels he reached at the Asian Games. An India 1-2 at the Paris Olympics is like a dream for India and with a performance like this, Jena has firmly showcased that dream can become a reality in 2024. 

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 (Neeraj Chopra and Kishore Jena at Asian Games. Image: AFI)

For an athlete who took up javelin only a few years back in 2014, it is a titanic rise. Since making it to the CISF sports team in 2018, Jena has continued to rise in the ranks. He made it to the national camp in 2021 and in 2023 he was participating in the World Championships. 

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Kishore Kumar Jena spoke exclusively to republicworld.com where candidly opened up on a lot of topics like Neeraj Chopra and his guidance, the throw at the Asian Games, and also talked about the bizarre scenes in China during the javelin event. Here are the excerpts from the exclusive interview with Odisha's champion javelin thrower:-

Could recall the moment when you threw 86.77m and surpassed Neeraj. What was the feeling like?

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Jena: The first throw I threw 86 mts, I was really happy that I qualified for the Paris Olympics. That was the main focus. If I qualify for Paris, then the medal would definitely come. The second throw also went better than that, so I was really pleased.

How did Neeraj react to the throw?

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Jena: Neeraj bhai just said 'Jena badia kar rha hai, badia jaa rha hai'. He had said at the start only that my throw was going well and I should just look to maintain that. When I threw 86 mts, he said ' Bahut badia Jena, All the best. Do better'. Then he threw 88 and I threw 87, so it was really good. 

What was the feeling when Neeraj and you stood on the podium with the Indian flag flying high?

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Jena: I can't describe the happiness when we wrapped ourselves in the Indian flag and roamed all over the stadium celebrating with people cheering us. Maaza aagya. I can't describe the feeling, it was awesome

During the event, we saw a lot of weird instances taking place like Neeraj's first throw not getting recorded, and then you getting wrongly penalised (which was overturned later). What was the reaction to the scenes in China?

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Jena: We were also stunned by what was happening. He threw so well and we were also waiting to see the distance of his throw. Another athlete then threw from another country and it resulted in a lot of chaos. Neeraj bhai went to the officials to ask what happened and it was eventually decided that they could not measure and he had to throw another one. Neeraj then said to me that if I take too much time in this then it is not fair on other athletes as they are also waiting for their throw. He decided to throw again.

Did you think something wrong was going on or some kind of cheating? 

Jena: Yes, it seemed like that. Neeraj Bhai is a big athlete and it was a world-level competition and this should not have happened. I was thinking ki 'Jab unka hua toh hamara toh hona hee hona hai'. The matter is with AFI and they take it forward. 

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Let's talk about the World Championships in Budapest. In your first-ever international event, you came fifth. How was the experience?

Jena: There was a little pressure before the world championship. It was new and there were visa troubles. But the experience of the World Championship helped me in the Asian Games

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You faced Visa issues before the event. Was there a big fear of missing world championships?

Jena: That was the biggest fear. I had to leave other events too due to visa troubles. I did not sleep for 2-3 days due to the tension. But with the Indian government's help and Neeraj Chopra's support, I got it done. 

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(Kishore Kumar Jena at training session / Image: Odisha Sports photos)

Odisha has been at the forefront of India's big rise in sports. They are quickly becoming the sporting capital of India with elite infrastructure and support to athletes. Could you elaborate on how Odisha is taking care of the athletes in their state?

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Jena: There was no focus on sports earlier. Now they have hired a good coaches, are making a good stadiums and the Odisha government is doing everything for that. And there is no better way for the athlete to go ahead. The Odisha government is supporting us very well. They are providing prize money for athletes which is also good for motivation. That is why Odisha is doing very well. 
Odisha government provides me with everything I need to succeed. I went to the World Championship, I received a reward of 50 lakh, and then again after Asian Games. It motivates us further. If the government stands with us, it feels really good. I want to thank the Odisha government. 

The medal count is rising, the infrastructure is getting better, and support is there. Do you think India's rise to becoming a sporting superpower is now inevitable?

Jena: Yes, definitely. You can see in the world championship only that we had three Indian javelin throwers in the event. We had 70-something medals in the last Asian Games, now we have 107. So you can see how well we are progressing in sports. In the coming time, we do better than that

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Published November 17th, 2023 at 09:26 IST