Just two years ago, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra was seen at the pinnacle of his career when he became one of India’s brightest hope for a medal in Olympics. He became the first Indian javelin thrower to win the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast 2018. His stupendous form stood firmly again in Jakarta the same where he won another gold medal at the Asian Games.
The Jakarta Games, however, brought down a temporary curtain to the 22-year-old’s prospect as he suffered a niggling elbow injury, which forced him to undergo a surgery, followed by a long-drawn rehabilitation process. Keeping himself completely out of competitions in 2019 and even missing out on the IAAF World Championship, Neeraj took his own sweet time to come back strong. When Chopra returned to action at the ACNE League meeting in Potchefstroom, South Africa, earlier this year, he immediately made the cut for the Tokyo Olympics with a throw of 87.86m. The Olympic qualification mark was 85m.
After qualifying, Neeraj went to Turkey for training but had to return to India when the government decided to close its doors to passengers from several countries, including Turkey. From then onwards, Neeraj has confined himself with the boundaries of the National Institute of Sports in Patiala. After spending two weeks in isolation, Neeraj is now looking to just maintain his fitness with whatever exercise he can do inside the hostel till the Sports Authority of India gives permission to train outdoors.
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“It is definitely not an easy situation to be in since as athletes, we are used to a set routine of training. On usual days, most of my schedule is planned around training and work in the gym, so it is tough. But at the same time, the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything we’ve faced ever before, so I think we need to look at it from that perspective. Everyone’s facing this issue and the health and well-being of the world is a priority right now, so all we can do is think of this as a positive and keep ourselves motivated till we wait for the situation to improve,” says Neeraj in conversation with The Bridge.
It’s been a long time since Neeraj last visited his home, however, he never forgets to stay connected with his family via video calls to home his home. The long hiatus after Asian Games put a big pause to his training and again after recovering, while he was expected to take his game to the next level, the lockdown stood as a barrier. It has been a challenging journey and Chopra is waiting patiently to hit the outdoors. “The period after Asian Games was tough, but I believe every situation teaches you something and the tough times taught me a lot too. I continued my training post surgery. I was doing my fitness but I didn’t train with the Javelin. I would say the journey was interesting and challenging too,” says Chopra.
A long break could affect an athlete’s mentality, so how’s he is coping up with the challenges?
“This is a long break for me from competitions but there are times when you can’t control situations. As an athlete I can focus on my training and keep a positive mindset. Breaks do affect the mentality of the athletes but we have to make sure the negative thoughts don’t affect us. I am sure all the athletes around the world are doing the same right now,” says Chopra.
The lockdown has imposed a change in their plans for all athletes in the world with the Olympics pushed back to 2021. Chopra is however satisfied that he has earned the qualification mark and will try to do his best in the competitions which will happen once these phase is being tackled. “The decision by World Athletics has obviously been taken after considering a range of factors and they are the experts at that. I try to keep things as simple as possible: my job as a javelin thrower is to stay in good shape and do my best at each competition. From that perspective, the change in qualification period doesn’t affect me. Yes, I’m happy that I was able to qualify on my first competition back, but I would have backed myself to cross the 85m mark, as long as I am in good physical shape and form,” the 22-year-old says.
To keep himself out of the monotony of indoors, Chopra has been watching movies and listening to music within his confines. Besides, he is also chasing the target of reaching the 90m throw mark with added physical training.