In October this year, it was amidst relentless push and pull over his participation in one of India’s premier athletics competitions, the 59th National Open Athletics Championships, that Neeraj Chopra decided to exclude himself at the eleventh hour.
The champion athlete was just four months into recovery from an elbow surgery and was keen to get back on to the field. But with his national coaches and the Federation not convinced about his progress, he had to postpone his return.
Deputy Chief National Coach Radhakrishnan Nair had made his stance clear in an interview with Sportstar, “He (Neeraj Chopra) should not participate and it's not just my opinion, it's the opinion of the (AFI) president, the planning committee chairman, the High-Performance Director and also the chief coach...everyone. He says he is alright but if he is competing, it is at his own risk.”
Fast forward to two months later and athlete from Haryana, who will be celebrating his 22nd birthday on December 22, has become stronger and finally ready to take the field.
Aiming to return in months
Currently training in South Africa’s North-West University (NWU) in Potchefstroom, a facility few hours from Johannesburg, with a new coach Klaus Bartonietz, Chopra feels that he has got his ‘mojo’ back and is raring to get back in to competition mode.
“The preparations have been very good so far. I’m targeting April when there will be the Federation Cup and the Diamond League in Doha,” Chopra told the Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview.
“However, I’ll be consulting with my coaches in South Africa if I could take part in some competitions here (in South Africa), just to get the feel of competition. Nothing is confirmed as of now but I’m looking into it. The eventual build-up is for the Diamond League and Federation Cup, where I’m looking for a comeback.”
A Change of Coach, Change of Method?
A lot had been said about Chopra’s mismanagement after he was placed under the knife. There were reports that he was experiencing tightness in his shoulder while throwing and weakness in his back for the past several months, which kept affecting his elbow position, something which may have been detected very late.
However, with things getting better now, Chopra has decided to fall back upon his preferred technique and has also changed his coach from Germany’s Uwe Hohn to the South African Bartonietz. “I still take help from Uwe from time to time. But my current coach understands my technique better,” he says.
“I had trained well in 2018 under Uwe but with my injury happening, I felt that there were technical faults and I overexerted myself. I hope to work on my old technique with Klaus. So, I came with Klaus to South Africa to train further.”
Neeraj Chopra’s Hard Work in Silence
Success is a cruel teacher. After the immense limelight that followed Chopra after his gold medal feats in CWG and Asian Games 2018, two of the biggest stages in 2018, the rehabilitation in 2019 was lonely. Staying away from his peers to recover, he was restricted to train alone for a longer period, while his competitors participated in competitions.
“Rehab was fine but lonely. While everyone was participating in competitions, I had to train alone and get ready faster. But, my hands were tied and I had to keep my focus then. However, now I’m back to full training and getting back to full fitness,” he says, beaming with confidence.
2019 a boon
While fate has really been ruthless for Chopra with his injury and recovery, 2019 has also hardly seen any outstanding performances in the javelin throw. And the Indian wishes to look at the positive side of this.
“Last year, the throws were brilliant, most of which crossed 90m by javelin throwers all around the world. This year, however, after some early good show, no one really has gone ahead to create records as such. Diamond League saw a gold medal in 85m while the World Championship saw the winner getting 86m,” he shared.
That said, the athlete is aware of the fact that his competitors would come back stronger in the Olympic year ahead and he is ready for the same. “This year hasn’t been remarkable as such compared to 2018 but with the Olympics coming up, I am expecting everyone to be more prepared and so will I be,” he concluded.