With Eye on Olympics, Neeraj Chopra Doesn’t Go Home Despite Injury
Despite going under the knife, javelin star Neeraj Chopra has not lost focus, still chasing his ultimate goal.
Neeraj Chopra’s WhatsApp profile picture is neither from the Commonwealth nor the Asian Games, where he won golds, nor of him hurling the javelin. Instead, when you open his profile, it’s the word ‘focus’ in a large font that stares at you.
Despite going under the knife, derailing his preparations a year before the Tokyo Olympics, the javelin star has not lost focus, still chasing his ultimate goal.
There is anxiety among the country’s athletics fraternity about whether Chopra will be fit in time for the World Championships starting next month. But the man himself is willing to bide his time. In an exclusive interview with The Quint, he said,
“I do not have a specific date in mind when to make my comeback. It all depends on how my body is feeling. There is still discomfort and pain in my elbow and it will be a couple of weeks before I can hurl a javelin in training.’’
So at the moment, India’s brightest medal hope in track and field at the Olympics, is undergoing intensive rehabilitation. He underwent an arthroscopic surgery of his right elbow to remove the bone fragments exactly three months ago. For now, he’s using the medicine ball and hurling it against the walls to strengthen the elbow.
“I had sought medical opinion from various experts and came to the conclusion that surgery was the best solution.’’
“Injuries like the one Neeraj has suffered, are very common among javelin throwers. It is not a career threatening injury and by the looks of it, it will take a couple of months before he can get back to full fitness,’’ says 2010 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Kashinath Naik, who now coaches young javelin throwers.
“I met Chopra a few days ago and his rehabilitation seems to be on the right track. He should not force himself into making a comeback but allow the body to recover fully.”
“I think the major reason for Chopra’s success has been his flawless technique. The position that he gets into while delivering the javelin is perfect. He also has the advantage of having a good height (182 cm) with long limbs. So with all these ingredients, it won’t be difficult for him to regain his form once the body is feeling right,” Naik added.
“I had undergone a surgery in 2012 of my wrist and that was the time when I felt my javelin career could be over. But this time around, I am more mature and I know I will be able to bounce back.”Neeraj Chopra
Chopra has been meticulous with his rehab timelines, continuing with his monk-like devotion to the sport. Despite the long lay-off from javelin, he has not visited his home in Khandara village in Panipat for even a solitary day, preferring to spend time with the coaches and sports medicine experts in Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports, Patiala and the JSW’s Inspire Institute of Sports in Vijayanagar. This, to ensure that he doesn’t miss out on a single day of his intensive rehabilitation program.
The 21-year-old had a dream 2018 – winning gold medals at Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. He seemed firmly on track for his Olympic preparations registering a personal best throw of 88.06 metres. This came at the Jakarta Asian Games, which was his last international meet.
Chopra’s throw of over 88m last year had raised hopes of the poster boy of Indian athletics crossing the 90-metre barrier. “If you study the results of 2018, there has not been much of a difference between the top throws last season and my personal best. On my good day, I could beat the best in the world,” he said.
In 2018, there were only five throwers who had a better throw than Chopra with Johannes Vetter of Germany leading the charts with an effort of 92.70 metres.
This year four throwers – Magnus Kirt of Estonia, Andreas Hoffman of Germany, Edis Matusevicius of Lithuania and Bernard Seifert of Germany – have managed throws higher than Chopra’s personal best.
This means if Chopra is able to better his personal best after his recovery, he will be in frame for an elusive Olympic medal.
In Chopra’s absence, India’s Shivpal Singh came up with a promising display at the Asian Championship in Doha with an effort of 86.23m. The impressive showing earned the Uttar Pradesh athlete entry to Diamond League meets where he had an opportunity to compete against the best in the business. But the 23-year-old failed to come anywhere close to his own personal best or that of Chopra. Shivpal earned the qualifying mark needed to book a place in the World Championship starting next month in Doha, but is nowhere close to be in reckoning for a medal.
“It has been frustrating missing out on important meets like the Diamond League. Therefore I have been interacting with coaches and other throwers to keep myself in positive frame of mind. I have come to accept the fact that injuries are a part of an athletes’ career.’’Neeraj Chopra
With less than a year left for the Tokyo Olympics, the injury has been a big setback. With time running out, he is bracing himself for tough training ahead, where he will need to dig deep into his mental fortitude and physical strength to reassert his class as one of the best javelin-throwers in the world.
(The author is a television producer working with different sports networks in India and abroad. He has extensively covered previous editions of Asian Games and Commonwealth Games for both print and television.)
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