Garry Calvert's reign as India's javelin coach may have lasted barely over a year, besides ending prematurely, but his words about Neeraj Chopra still ring loud. Before he walked out of the door over a dispute with the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the Australian called Chopra a ‘once-in-a-generation talent’.
It's a measure of how much the 20-year-old has justified that tag since that he's constantly being talked up as a potential medallist at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
He may be touted as one of the country's best hopes in athletics at the moment, but Chopra vividly remembers the time he was anything but athletic. ‘Mota (fat),’ is how Chopra chooses to describe himself back then.
It was a time when Chopra was many years away from being the next big thing in Indian athletics.
"I don’t come from a family which has a background in sports. In fact, I used to be a fat kid when I was young. Of course, I didn’t think so at the time. Neither did my mother — parents can be like that. But once a relative remarked that if I didn’t control my weight, it could become a problem later on. So I decided to start doing some exercise,” says Chopra.
However, with his village Khandra not having a proper ground to train on at the time, Chopra would travel every day to Panipat to run on the athletic track of a stadium there.
"That's when I noticed a couple of people throwing javelins. I remember sitting for a long time just watching them, fascinated by what was going on. I didn’t know what the sport was at the time,” says Chopra.
But curiosity soon gripped him and he approached the javelin coach. Soon, he was part of the group training in javelin throws.
“10-15 days after I first started, I took part in a district competition and threw a decent 46metres,” he recollects.
In a few years, Chopra’s talent started getting noticed, with the likes of JSW Sports backing him, and the boy branded a ‘once-in-a-generation talent’ started to impose himself.
A throw of 86.48m at the IAAF World Under-20 Athletics Championship in 2016 brought him a world record — the country’s first-ever in any World Athletics Championships. But a year on, he failed to make it to the final of the World Championships, a result which demonstrated that the senior level was a different ball game altogether.
However, the upcoming Commonwealth Games represent a chance to finally clinch a major medal at the senior level.
“At the Commonwealth Games, my aim is to give my personal best. If I can do that, it would be good enough to clinch a medal for sure. It won’t be easy since there are some big names in the fray," Neeraj says before adding, “Lekin saamne koi bhi aa jaaye, dekh lenge. Mujhe sirf apna best dena hai. (Whoever else is there, I’m not too worried about that. I just want to do my best.)”
2018 is a major season for Chopra, with competitions such as the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, lined up. However, his preparations were almost derailed by Calvert's premature exit, which left him without a coach for a few months, that too during a hectic year.
“I had not competed in so many competitions in a year. Earlier it would just be a couple of events, each year. But in 2017, I took part in some 10 events, where my throws were also good. These included three Asian Grand Prix events (Jinhua Asian Grand Prix, Jiaxing Asian Grand Prix, Taipei City Asian Grand Prix), three Diamond League appearance (Paris, Monaco and Zurich), the Asian Championships in Bhubaneshwar and the World Championships in London,” he says.
That was when Chopra went on a three-month training stint to Offenburg in Germany, knowing fully well that 2018 was a make-or-break year.
“During the Germany stint, I worked on my power and on eliminating technical faults. I also worked on my release action. Earlier, because of the way I held my javelin in the run-up, there was a lot of pressure on my elbow. Now with the tweaked action, that has been reduced significantly,” Neeraj said before adding, “Bas man main yahi hai ki injury na ho (I just keep thinking that I shouldn’t get injured.)”
Promising start to year 2018 in offenburg With 82.80m throw... pic.twitter.com/oONkFtfyEV
— Neeraj Chopra (@Neeraj_chopra1) February 4, 2018
It’s a line he keeps saying again and again throughout the interview, almost as if it’s a mantra.
“2018 is a really important year for me, considering there are Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. There are also Diamond League events which happen, where I plan on competing,” he says.
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Updated Date: Mar 27, 2018 12:53:28 IST