Neeraj Chopra is my bet for India's athletics medal at Tokyo, says former Olympian Bahadur Singh
Former chief athletics coach of India, Bahadur Singh, said that javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is India's most favourite contender for the maiden athletics medal at Tokyo Olympics
Former chief athletics coach of India, Bahadur Singh Chouhan, who retired last year, said that javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is India's most favourite contender for the maiden athletics medal in Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Bahadur Singh, who took a call on his two and half decades old coaching career in July 2020, also feels two women discus throwers Kamalpreet Kaur and Seema Punia along with long jumper Murali Sreeshankar will be in contention for athletics medals in the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics starting on July 23.
"I am very confident of young javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra's chances in the upcoming Olympics. He has done tremendously well in the last few years. Now I hope he will return home with a medal from Tokyo. I pray for his success," said the 75-year-old coach in an exclusive conversation with The Bridge.
"Apart from him, I believe discus throwers Kamalpreet Kaur and Seema Punia will have good chances to bag medals. And there is a 22-year-old long jumper Sreeshankar, he can surprise us. He jumped 8.26m in one tournament. But he couldn't participate in any other tournaments before the Games. He practised in his home town. Still he, according to me, is a good contender for an Olympic medal. Let's hope for the best," added the former two-time Asian Games gold medal-winning shot putter.
Unhappy with women's relay teams
However, Bahadur Singh, who lives in Haryana, is unhappy with the 4x100m and 4x400m women's relay teams as both couldn't make it to the Games.
"It is really sad to see the conditions of the women's relay teams now. The 4x400m women's team is not the same one that won the gold medal in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. Hima Das has been ruled out due to injury. Saritaben Gaikwad was not there in the race at all. Why? I don't know. The thing is that once an athlete picks up an injury, even it is small, it is difficult for her to give the best," said Singh.
In the 2020 Inter-State Athletics Championship in Patiala, the newly formed women's relay team comprising Jisna Mathew, V Subha, VK Vismaya and MR Poovamma, failed to impress at the trials. This team was first formed for the 2019 World Championships after Himas Das withdrew from the 400m race due to a back injury. The new relay team also suffered because of the pandemic related restrictions, as they couldn't train for almost a year and had to give the 2021 World Athletics Relays in Poland in May a miss after finding no flyer.
"Without the core team that won the Asian Games, the 4x400 team lost its grace and chance. But I am sure they will be fit before the Asian Games next year, and once again India will have a strong 4x400m women's relay team which can win successive gold medals in China," stated Singh, under whom athletics in India reached a new height.
The 4x100m team, meanwhile, suffered because Hima was unfit and Jisna was not in her best form, while MR Poovamma had to withdraw herself due to a back injury.
In the Asian Games three years back, Poovamma, Saritaben, Das and Vismaya clocked 3:28:72s, which made them a formidable quartet and one of the strongest contenders for an Olympic medal. But that is now an old story. Poor injury management has hurt India's prospects to a great extent.
Singh joined the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) in February 1995 after completing a diploma in coaching. He pursued coaching after having an illustrious career in the shot put in which he won three Asian Games medals - silver in 1974 and successive gold in 1978 and 1982 Asiad. He also won a gold medal, a silver and three bronze in Asian Athletics Championships.
In the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games, under Bahadur Singh's coaching, Indian athletes for the first time had put up a remarkable performance when they won whopping 12 medals, including two gold.
However, the tipping point of his career came in 2018 Asiad in Jakarta where India won 20 medals in track and field competition, including eight gold and nine silver.
Asked why he took retirement just two years before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which was later postponed due to the pandemic, he said, "I have taken retirement because of coronavirus pandemic last year after serving AFI as chief coach for 25 years. I didn't want to continue at this age amid covid-19. I wanted to stay with my family. So, I had to make this tough decision."
Still scared of partition
Meanwhile, talking about the late Milkha Singh he revealed that he has not been able to sleep since the legendry athlete passed away.
"I have not been able to sleep since Milkha Singh died. I am still scared thinking of how he survived during the riots that broke out after the 1947 partition. His whole family was killed. He fortunately survived. But more than 22 lakh innocent people died due to the partition.
"What was the need for partition? We have become enemies of Pakistan and they are ours. Why there should be such enmity between countries?
"We are still suffering from horrors of the partition. I don't see any end of hostility. Next generations will also suffer. What is the point of such a partition which still making us suffer?
"If Germany could become a united nation why not us?" asked Bahadur Singh.
"In front of Milkha Singh, we never talked about partition because we felt it would hurt him. Today, as he left us, I am still feeling the horror of partition, so many innocent people lost their lives. In this subcontinent, there can't be peace without India, Pakistan and Bangladesh becoming one," felt the legendry coach.