Sixteen months! That’s how long India’s finest javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra was out of competitive action. While the likes of Hima Das were making waves among Indian fans in the pre-Olympics year, athletics was missing out on one of its favourite faces. The eerie silence from Neeraj’s end was probably the calm before the storm that was supposed to come.
Guess what? With the turn of the year, the storm came crashing and invigorated a new fervour among Indian athletics fans. On Tuesday night, Neeraj Chopra marked his comeback with a bang. A humongous throw of 87.86 metres at the Athletics Central North East Meeting, saw Neeraj achieving qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on his very first competitive meet since the Asian Games in Jakarta, 2018.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) confirmed with the South Africa Athletics federation to find out it is a ‘recognised international meet’, which gives Neeraj an assured place at the Olympics. The first competition after a long injury lay-off often does not turn out well for an athlete, but here Neeraj was throwing his mettle and was brooding with confidence, which let him throw close to his personal best of 88.06 metres at Asian Games that had earned him the coveted gold.
The Chandigarh lad who is still in South Africa, in a conversation with The Bridge quipped:
After series of breakthrough performances in 2018, Neeraj was expected to shine in 2019 as well with a vision of earning the qualification mark for the Olympics a year ahead, along with some exciting shows at the IAAF World Championships, Diamond Leagues and even the Open Nationals. However, circumstances didn’t pan out to be what he had expected. A niggling injury on his elbow turned out to be the stumbling block.
Chopra underwent rehabilitation at National Institute of Sport, Patiala and the Inspire Institute of Sport, Vijayanagar, before shifting base to Potchefstroom, South Africa to train under coach Klaus Bartonietz in November last year.
Neeraj underwent surgery on May 2 last year and underwent rehabilitation at National Institute of Sport, Patiala and the Inspire Institute of Sport, Vijayanagar. He stayed out from any of the competitive tournaments, which further heightened the trepidation to make the Olympics qualifying mark. While he had started his training in October, he wanted to give time to get fully recovered and hence he stayed out of the big tournaments.
In November, his training was bolstered as he flew to Potchefstroom, South Africa to train under coach Klaus Bartonietz. Delighted by the way he has picked up his performance, Neeraj said, “I have been training for long now. I was also training when the National Open was going on in October, but I wanted to take it slow and didn’t want to haste into the competition. I didn’t want to get injured again at that time. And I think this has paid dividends if you see.”
With a major lift in his confidence, Chopra will get the opportunity to take part in the several other tournaments in the coming months, which include the Federation Cup in India. Neeraj’s 87.86 m throw already makes him one of the heavyweight contenders in the world right now. If someone assesses all the performances across the world in 2019, Neeraj would have sit in the 7th position with this throw, which is topped by Estonia’s Magnus Kirt who threw 90.61 m in on 22nd June.
Neeraj already knows there’s plenty of hope rested on his shoulders now bring a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but for him, it’s just a matter of looking ahead and break the barrier of 90 metres.
“I can’t say anything about the Olympics medal. It depends on a particular day and at a particular time. My target is to achieve the 90-metre mark and hopefully, then I could get a podium finish at the Olympics,” he concludes.