Javelin thrower Vikrant Malik rekindles Asiad dreams after overcoming injury and winning University Games gold

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Back in 2014, Vikrant Malik, the 2022 All India University javelin champion, ran into Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra during a junior national meet. Both the Panipat residents, participating in different age categories, had a brief exchange where Neeraj invited Malik to train with him at the Panchkula stadium. “Dono bhai sath me training karenge,” (We brothers will train together) Neeraj said to me, recalls Malik.

But little did he know that a few months later, he would suffer a career-threatening elbow injury to his throwing arm, pouring cold water over their training plans. The injury not only managed to keep Malik away from competition for almost three years, but threatened to end his career for good.

At least half a dozen doctors that he consulted with asked the then 18-year-old to quit javelin and take up running instead. But Malik was already deeply in love with the sport and was unwilling to give it up so easily.

“Javelin is the only sport I have known and I am really passionate about it. The feeling when the javelin leaves your arm and goes in the air is something indescribable. That is the best feeling in the world,” explains Malik, with conviction in his tone.

But he knew that the road to recovery would be long and painful. Post-injury his elbow was in such bad shape that he could not even lift a coffee mug. “I could not even brush with that arm. I went through a lot of pain,” recalls the 26-year-old, who won the gold at the recently-concluded University Games with a best throw of 77.82m.

The injury also took a toll on his mental health. Malik went into a shell and confined himself to his room. Staying away from the ground didn’t help his cause either. “I was so broken and depressed that I would hardly eat. I lost 10 kgs during that phase. Those three years are the worst phase of my life and I am so glad that they are behind me,” says Malik.

He trains under his father Rajender, a retired army personnel who also served as a bodyguard for former India president K.R. Narayanan in the early 90’s. The senior Malik’s javelin career was cut short due to an elbow injury and he had to switch to middle distance running.

“There was no one to guide me when I got the injury and I just took up running. I did not want my son to suffer the same plight. Even though his arm was in a bad shape I pushed him to train and stay fit,” says Rajender, who was stationed with the Jat regiment.

Malik’s return to action was gradual. Once he felt that he could extend his elbow without discomfort, he hit the village ground to test the waters. Although his first throw in three years yielded a distance of just 30m, he was mighty pleased that he could make a throw without feeling any pain in his elbow.

Malik returned to competition in 2017 and has since then kept on improving his distance gradually. The athlete from Haryana is targeting the 85m mark, one that would give him a good chance of a podium finish at the upcoming Asian Games slated for September in China.

“My arm is in good shape but I feel discomfort occasionally. I will work on my core muscles and am confident that the 85m throw isn’t that far away,” he says. And as far as the training plans with Neeraj goes, he is hopeful of getting a call for the national camp. “If they take me in, maybe I will get to train with my Panipat brother as we had planned. I look up to him and hopefully can win some international medals and make Panipat the javelin capital of India,” says Malik.

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