Not intimidated by the big stage or the big names, the diminutive Odisha athlete put up a show to remember with a personal best throw of 84.77m on a night when for the time in history three Indians competed together in the final of a single event of the world athletics meet.
Taking inspiration from Neeraj Chopra, who gave him confidence between the throws, Jena kept going the distance with every throw. “We kept talking in between the throws. After I came back from one of the throws, he just told me, ‘Don’t worry too much, it will be better the next time’,” said Jena from the airport in Munich on Monday.
While Jena was more than happy with his showing, he is already looking forward to the Asian Games and wants to do even better there. And he is in no mood to rest. He will be going straight to Patiala after reaching New Delhi and start preparing with his coach Samarjeet Singh Malhi, who deserves much of the credit for helping Jena reach the big stage.
The journey, however, hasn’t been a walk in the park for Jena, the son of a rice farmer from Kothasahi Village of Puri district. A volleyball player in his youth, Jena started javelin only in 2015 after his short height made it difficult for him to improve.
“A trial was held at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar then, since I had tried my hands at javelin before, I went ahead with it and was selected,” Jena had said ahead of the World Championships.
Initially, he trained at Odisha Sports Hostel under Nilamadhab Deo. Later, in 2018, he got a job in Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and shifted to Bhopal where he trained under Jagbir Singh. But despite all the hard work, his performance didn’t improve till 2021.
However, after Neeraj won the gold at Tokyo Olympics, it inspired him and pushed him to do better. It was then that he won the javelin challenge in New Delhi in October 2021. It not only won him a place in the national camp but also gave him the opportunity to work under coach Samarjeet.
“In the beginning, he was concerned about his height but I kept reminding him it was nothing to be worried about and made all the necessary changes to his technique,” Samarjeet had said.
The changes included increasing his distance of running from 14m to 22-23m, shifting his grip towards the back and rectifying the angle of his body while throwing. All these worked wonders for Jena as he threw a personal best of 78.05 at National Open Athletics Championships in Bengaluru in October 2022.
It didn’t stop there as he kept improving by leaps and bounds as the new year began.
He threw 78.93m at Indian Open Throws Competition in Bellary on March 1 and 19 days later broke the 80m-mark with a throw of 81.05m at Indian Grand Prix in Trivandrum.
Although he failed to go past the 80m mark in the next three meets, Jena came back with a bang at the National Inter-State Championships in June with a throw of 82.87m. Then, at Sri Lankan Championships in July, he went onto win the event with a throw of 84.38m, his then personal best, and qualify for the Worlds.
And now at the worlds he has bettered his show once again and one can only expect him to go even longer in the coming days.