Commonwealth Games 2018: Neeraj Chopra turns India's Javelin spearhead 

With first senior gold, Neeraj becomes fourth Indian individual in history to reach top of podium in Commonwealth Games athletics. 

Published: 15th April 2018 02:17 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th April 2018 07:02 AM   |  A+A-

Neeraj Chopra competes in the men's javelin qualifying at Carrara Stadium during the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia. | AP

Express News Service

GOLD COAST: A cool breeze blew across the stadium. It had rained in the morning and despite a strong sun, there was a nip in the air. In the no­rth-west side of Carrara Athletics Complex, Neeraj Chopra was standing to complete his fourth th­row.

Javelin in hand, broad-shouldered with long hair, he resembled a medieval warrior. But his face was boyish and bereft of ferocity.

Neeraj was waiting for an opening between the leading pack and the tail in the women’s 5000m race. He ran in rhythmic steps, drew the spear sideways in a swift motion. After hurling it, he lost balance and tumbled. As he rolled on the ground, the spear gained momentum from the power generated by his strong limbs and swo­o­sh­ed through the air before pie­rcing the ground. A huge applause died in the staccatos as the giant board showed 86.47 — Neeraj’s season’s be­st. He clapped and acknowled­ged the crowd.

The opening he had created between him and the rest couldn’t be breached. His name was now etched in gold among the country’s elites. Only Milkha Singh, Krishna Poonia, Vikas Gowda and the 2010 women’s 4x400m relay team had won gold in CWG track and field events. Neeraj’s is the first Indian gold in javelin.Neeraj’s victory lap took an eternity. He gave high fives and signed autographs, something t­hat ne­ver happ­e­ns in Ind­i­a. “Th­is was tremendous. God gives us opportunities and we have to take them. Right?” he said.

Positive touch

What others call predicament, Neeraj calls vicissitudes in life — a learning curve, especially in India.

The transition from junior to senior is tricky. In developed sporting nations, professionals handle that shift, as the developments of mind and body are moulded seamlessly into the fabric of life to face the rigours of the senior professional world.

At 18, Neeraj won gold at the junior world championships in 2016. In 2017, he was st­r­u­g­gling to find a go­od coach — a re­curring Indian theme.

Two ye­­ars on, his 86.48m is yet to be be­ttered. The 20-year-old had a tremendous working re­lationship with legendary co­a­ch Garry Calvert.

But in April last ye­ar he resigned because his demand for incentives was not met. China gleefully lapped him up.

Neeraj trained on his own for a while. At one point, he was strugg­ling to even clear 83m. He was fr­u­strated. He looked abroad for su­pport and went to Germany to tr­ain under Daniel Werner, who Ca­lvert recommended.

When AFI and SAI secured the services of Uwe Hohn, he refused to join initially and wanted to continue in Germany where he had rented an apartment, cooked and trained. The AFI had to coax him back. In February, he started training but following Werner’s regimen.

Hohn, realising the futility of trying to change Neeraj, allowed him for CWG. This gold might give Neeraj more confidence in Hohn.

Always relaxed

Neeraj was the most relaxed athlete at the Village. He was chilling with friends, interacting with fa­ns. “I was confident. And someti­mes it’s good to unwind. I have be­en training and sleeping we­ll.”

A believer in destiny, Ne­e­raj ne­­ver thought he would be co­m­p­et­ing at the CWG when he took up the spear.

“First it’d felt good to win at district and state levels... Then, I we­nt to the national and junior in­te­rnational tournaments. My fo­cus has always been on training.

“My parents did whatever they could with their modest earning,” he said. Ev­en after gold he re­c­ollects the days when he trave­lled over 16kms everyday to reach Patiala for training.

“There was a se­nior coach called Jaiveer (Mo­nu). I started my sporting life with him,” said the athlete, who is now supported financially by JSW, the AFI, SAI, Nike and Gatorade.With the first throw on Saturday, Neeraj touched 85.50m, which secured the medal.

“I was striving for my personal best. To get even th­at 1, I gave that extra effort.” Su­c­­­cess at such a young age has ra­ised the bar of expectations. With Olympics two years away, just hope he clears that personal best and competes against the best.

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