New kid on the block: Pole Vaulter Dev Meena dreams big on the world stage
Dev Meena won the National Games gold in pole vault and became the first-ever Indian pole vaulter to qualify for the U20 World Athletics Championships.
Bambolim, Goa: The conditions were not ideal as rain halted the pole vault event at the National Games in Goa on Tuesday. The track became slippery, and the box where the pole was planted to avoid slipping had water logging.
Braving the tough conditions, 18-year-old Dev Meena from Madhya Pradesh clinched the gold medal with a personal best of 5.16m.
The youngster from Madhya Pradesh, Dev also became the first-ever Indian pole vaulter to qualify for the U20 World Athletics Championships, which will be held in August 2024 in Lima, Peru.
The qualification standard for the U20 World Championships was set at 5.10m.
“The conditions were a little tough but I have endured such conditions before especially in National Open Athletics in Bengaluru. I am feeling very good the new personal best,” Dev told The Bridge after his performance.
“We had targeted gold this time after some disappointments in the past few events,” his coach Ghanshyam said.
Switch from track to field
Hailing from a small village of Kheda in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh, Dev started as a sprinter at the age of 16.
“Two years back on the insistence of my uncle, I moved to MP Sports Academy in Bhopal. I always wanted to pursue sports,” said Dev.
Starting as a sprinter in 100m and 200m, things didn’t look good for Dev as he was injured in the early days.
“I was nursing an injury and it looked like I would go back home but that is when my coach (Ghanshyam) asked to switch to pole vault. I had watched pole vault before but had no idea of the sport,” Dev said.
His tall frame and lean body make Dev an ideal candidate for the pole vault. Pole vault is a sport that requires things like speed, agility, strength, and technique.
Dev possessed the first three and his technique needed more polishing.
“We chose him for the pole vault looking at his physicality and his sincerity to learn the sport,” Ghanshyam said. “There was no pole vaulter in Madhya Pradesh and Dev was the most suited candidate for this sport,” he added further.
Dev caught the attention of the athletics community with his national record-breaking performance at the Khelo India Youth Games in February 2023.
Dev created a new youth record with a jump of 4.91m to win the gold medal at the Khelo India Youth Games.
“The performance at the Khelo India Youth Games was the turning point for me as I started understanding the nuances of pole vault much better,” said Dev.
“The whole game is of technique and rhythm in pole vault. When I started, my performances were poor and I couldn’t clear 4.50m a lot of times,” said Dev.
Dev struggled with the rhythm in his initial days and was stuck at the 4.50m and ended his 2022 with a personal best of 4.60m.
In April 2023, Dev cleared 5.00m for the first time at the National U20 Championships in Kerala and then went on to clear 5.05m at the National Open Athletics in Bengaluru last month.
Dev has improved from 4.91m to 5.16m in the space of nine months.
"His improvement has been remarkable in the past few months and we are exploring the possibility of getting a foreign coach to our MP Sports Academy to facilitate his better training for the upcoming World Championships," Ghanshyam said.
Dev's inspiration at his home
Growing up in the Kheda village, Dev didn't have much to look up to when it came to sports but he found inspiration in his family. Dev is hugely inspired by his cousin Jay Meena who is one of India's top soft tennis players and represented India at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.
"I have always looked up to Jay bhaiya. He has worked very hard to reach the level where he is today," said Dev.
Jay lost in the men's singles quarterfinals of Soft Tennis at the Asian Games due to an unfavourable change of venue due to weather conditions.
"I was a little sad about his loss during the Asian Games. He grew up in Dewas and made his name at the international level and paved the way for me and others," said Dev.
Still at a nascent stage in his career, Dev keeps away from his phone and the world of social media to stay focused on his game. He uses his phone only when he has to analyze his performance.
"My coaches have asked me to stay away from the phone and I use it as per the requirement. I watch my videos and match them with the top players in the world to see the difference. It helps me a lot," Dev explained.
With support from his state authorities and his coaches, Dev is confident of creating history at the U20 World Championships next year.
"After I came to know about my qualifications, I became a little nervous. But I am hopeful of putting up a solid show next year in Peru," Dev signed off.