Updated: January 30, 2020 9:12:31 am
India’s star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra picked up meditation techniques and also turned to motivational books, Jeet Aapki by Shiv Khera being a favourite, during this 16-month rehabilitation period following an elbow surgery last year. “While he would tell us about meditation, it was a surprise for all us to see him meditate when he visited home before going to South Africa, his current training base. He carried Shiv Khera’s book Jeet Aapki and often told us that it’s all about motivation once he gets fully fit. Even during the rehab, most of us family members talked with him through whatsapp almost daily and shares Chopra’s uncle Bhim Chopra.
Feeling super awesome to be back in the competition mode.
Thank you everyone for your good wishes and supporting me always🙏जय हिंद 🇮🇳 pic.twitter.com/gO8iCMG8Di
— Neeraj Chopra (@Neeraj_chopra1) January 28, 2020
On Tuesday evening as Chopra sent his javelin flying to 87.86m in the ACNW League Meeting in Potchefstroom, South Africa, the Haryana athlete proceeded to point straight to the sky with the right hand, his trademark gesture to signal a perfect throw.
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Then he made his way to the other Indian javelin throwers and coach Klaus Bartoneitz. The throw was 20cm short of Chopra’s best throw of his career so far, a feat which he had achieved at the 2018 Asian Games. But Tuesday’s pitch meant that Chopra crossed the World Athletics qualification mark of 85m for the Tokyo Olympics. It was Chopra’s first competition outside India since September 2018 when he suffered the elbow injury and underwent the surgery in May 2019. And Chopra’s first reaction post qualifying, was to resume training for the bigger test up ahead in August.
“Such kind of throws come about because of hours of training,” Chopra told The Indian Express. At the McArthur Stadium at Potchefstroom, Chopra started third out of five, and warmed up with a throw of 81.63 m with none of the other competitors crossing the 75m mark. After progressively improving tosses of 82m and 82.57m in his second and third attempt, Chopra cranked it up to 87.86m in his fourth attempt and having secured qualification, did not bother with the last two throws.
Chopra had undergone elbow surgery in Mumbai on May 2, 2019, a day after the qualification process for 2020 Tokyo Olympics began. Five months later, the Athletics Federation of India had announced Chopra’s return to competitive mode in the 59th national Open Athletics Championship at Ranchi. But that was not to be as the star javelin thrower withdrew at the last minute. Chopra moved to South Africa along with coach Klaus Bartoneitz for his training stint.
With the average wind touching 14 kmph at Potchefstroom, Chopra got his rhythm back. “My thoughts were a bit different here as I was competing after a long gap. I competed here without much pressure. I had set the target to cross the qualifying standard but I wanted to test how it goes for me. It felt good to get that first throw of 81m plus. I had not got the run up correct and the javelin was released from a bit behind. This gave me the confidence to push a little more and try cross the 85m mark. The jerk and follow-through came out well in the fourth throw and I knew the throw was a good one. I could see that it was close to 84-85m as I was some distance away but when the officials announced, it was a good surprise for me and it meant that I had achieved my target,” he said in a statement.
Chopra knows that his main challenge will be to maintain this form and aim at improving his personal best of 88.06m, a mark which he reached at the Asian Games in 2018.
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“You see in the sport of javelin, it totally depends on the day and competition and not a lot of these thing are in your hand. On some days, even a throw of 85m can get a gold while on some even a 87m throw can see you finish outside the top-3 like it happened with me in the Doha Diamond League in 2018. So I don’t put any pressure on me to cross any mark. Yes, last year did see athletes not throwing that far as compared to 2016 or 2017 and 2018 but it was the same for everyone. Similarly this is an Olympic year and every athlete will be coming after a proper off-season and looking to peak at the right time. For me, the target has always been to improve my distance since that is under my control,” Chopra said.
Prior to leaving for South Africa last November, Chopra had spent time training at Patiala and later IIS, Vijaynagar. It was here he had trained by throwing golf balls to improve his elbow strength and movement. Once the Indian team shifted base to South Africa, Chopra’s initial focus was to reach the fitness level and then start the “throwing” sessions. The athlete would also practice hurdles running to gain the run-up speed.
“The elbow was stretching completely and even though I was hesitant to make throws with full strength, I would train with golf ball to improve my hand speed. The golf ball is light and fast and regaining the hand speed was my first focus. I had suffered injuries earlier also but never suffered an injury at such a crucial point in my career. I also understood that the extra bone fragments happened due to some mistake and my aim was to spend as much time on the basics as I can,” Chopra had said,
Early in his career, Chopra had suffered an elbow injury during the Federation Cup in 2016 before he won the IAAF World U-20 title. Chopra’s initial coach Naseem Ahmed, who had trained him at Tau Devi Stadium, Panchkula from 2012 to 2016, often talks with Chopra and the Haryana athlete shared his aim to achieve the right kind of fitness first before starting throwing. “I remember when he suffered the elbow injury in 2016 during the Federation Cup, his first aim was to regain his fitness. He keeps sending me videos of doing hurdles training and he would tell me that he undertook javelin sessions once in a week. It’s good that he understands this aspect of the sport and knows that his body has to be fully fit before he starts the rigorous work,” shares Ahmed.
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