Stuck in Patiala, Neeraj Chopra cries out for international competition

May 12, 2021

AthleticsNeeraj Chopra


Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra has stopped following the news. The constant feed about deaths has left him disturbed. He came to know about the demise of a distant relative during a phone call with the family. “It is not nice to follow because it affects me when I think about what is happening in the country. I have stopped watching the news or reading newspapers because the only news is about people dying because of the Coronavirus. I am trying to focus on throwing only. Luckily nobody in my (immediate) family has been affected,” Chopra says.

By throwing, what the 21-year-old means is dog-day training, day in and day out, at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala. He is ready to give an arm and a leg to shift his training base to the cooler climes of Europe and travel to and fro for competitions there. This, he says, is essential to meet the expectations of winning a medal at his first Olympic Games.

“It is very difficult to train in such heat. Even if you just stand on the ground for five minutes, it is next to impossible (to train). Now it is hot and in June it is going to get much hotter. It is going to be very hard to train,” India’s Olympic medal hope laments.

Nowhere to go
But restrictions imposed by countries on flights from India and the mandatory lengthy quarantine have robbed Chopra of what he needs most: getting Games-ready by pitting himself against top throwers. Two years away from international competition has left him frustrated.

“It is getting difficult because along with training, I need competition. Most of 2019, I missed because of injury and in 2020 and 2021, nothing has happened because of Covid. How long will one be patient? For one year or two years. Last year, I thought I would be able to compete next year, but that is not happening. Even in 2020, some European athletes were able to train abroad but Indians could not. Now in 2021, the other athletes abroad are competing but we have not been able to. Expectations are also very high about a gold medal. If you want to perform at the world level, you need to compete against world-level athletes also,” Chopra says during a media interaction organised by the Sports Authority of India.

Eye on rival
One athlete who Chopra follows closely is Johannes Vetter, the German who has registered the season’s leading throw at 91.50 metres. Last September, Vetter laid down the marker for the Tokyo Games when he touched 97.76 metres during a competition in Poland, the second-best throw ever. Chopra follows Vetter on this year’s list with 88.07 metres at the Indian Grand Prix in Patiala. But with competitions opening and the Olympics round the corner, he knows he can’t be on a constant cycle of only training.

“In training, I throw 80-plus. In competition, the mindset is different and I am able to do my best. In training, I am able to throw 82, 83, 84 metres but beyond that is tough. On the day of the competition, automatically my body warms up well, I have the right mindset, my warm-up throw is good. For me, there is a different feeling when it comes to competition when compared to training. So, I don’t need to do anything special to motivate myself when I am competing. I think it happens. It is God-given.”

Race against time
Two competitions, the Indian Grand Prix-4 and the National Inter-State Senior Athletics meet, are scheduled to be held next month in Bangalore. But the Athletics Federation of India is apprehensive of moving national campers from one place to another. With the pandemic not abating, these competitions are also in doubt.

When the opportunity comes to travel and train abroad, Chopra says he will have to be mindful of the number of days of quarantine required. Each additional day at an isolation facility is precious time lost.

“It is not possible for me to undergo 21 days of quarantine. Maybe one week to 10 days is ok because I can stay in the room and work on core training. It may not affect my performance greatly. But if I have to quarantine for 21 days, it will really impact my training and all the hard work will go to waste. With the Olympics so close, it will not be possible. So, when we decide which country to go to, we also have to check how many days of quarantine is required.”

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