CHENNAI: The nation is still recovering from Saturday’s emotionally charged big moment. That gold won by Neeraj Chopra in a discipline that’s considered the best and most glamorous at the Olympics has surely excited people. Every story and anecdote associated with the champion has been told and retold on loop. Amidst all this euphoric celebration, one man who has helped Neeraj in his quest for gold quietly left for home in Germany in the wee hours of Sunday.
Klaus Bartonietz personifies calmness. A lover of nature, Klaus’ next target is reaching the highest peak in Germany. “My mother used to stay there and the peak fascinated me,” he told The New Indian Express after Neeraj won the medal. “I have not gone home for more than a year because of our training. We had to meticulously chalk out our plan and set targets.”
The German coach is 73 years old and preferred to go back home. His hometown is the village of Bischofswerda in Saxony. His objective was to train Neeraj and he believes the result was a consequence of all the efforts every stakeholder put together, including coaches in the past. Australian Gary Calvert was the one who could harness Neeraj’s potential and he won the junior World Championships gold under him.
Though a bio-mechanics expert, Klaus has a Johannes Vetter connect too. He coached Vetter’s coach Boris Henry. Klaus is enjoying his stint with Neeraj. In fact, the two got together and started working more intimately after his elbow surgery in 2019. His form dipped in 2017-2018 and Neeraj started to prefer working with him over Uwe Hohn. Shifting of pressure from the legs to upper body was not uniform and the elbow was taking most of the load. Orthopaedic surgeon Dinshaw Pardiwala performed the two-hour surgery on his locked right elbow and rehabilitation was under physio Heath Mathew in Mumbai.
After the recovery, Neeraj started training with Klaus closely and their association blossomed. Klaus, the man he is, doesn’t want to take much credit. He believes it was great teamwork between the Sports Authority of India, the Athletics Federation of India and other stakeholders. “The SAI made sure we got everything,” he said. The Europe visit was one such example. Denied a visa by a lot of countries because of the pandemic, the athlete managed to go to Portugal after the ministry of external affairs and the sports ministry intervened.
Recollecting the times after recovery, Klaus said Neeraj had a lot of problems with his elbow. “He is a very good boy and listens to whatever we say,” he said. “He understands how important correct training is. We used to watch a lot of video analysis of his movements and tried sorting out his release issue. The momentum and the power shifting to javelin was one area we worked upon. It was a big challenge.”
The coach feels Neeraj is a great athlete – a good sprinter and a good gymnast too. “Not just a javelin thrower but as an athlete, he is great. He listens to his body and he knows how much load his body can take. He understands us and our planning. He is not after money, doesn’t do any advertising or commercials. He is totally focused on the sport. He is good in sprints and he is good in gymnastics and jumps.” Klaus also says that he is not the only one that made him great. “There were other coaches before me who worked with him and they too helped him,” said the coach.
Even AFI president Adille Sumariwalla felt that Klaus’s association with Neeraj was good. “We needed a second coach as the javelin pool was getting bigger and we found Klaus,” said Sumariwalla. “Since 2019, the two were working together. Since Neeraj was comfortable training with Klaus, we thought the association should continue. He is a matured person and had been guiding him. And the records are reflection of a proper system in place.”
Neeraj was spotted during a junior inter-district national meet conducted by the AFI nine years ago. “We spotted him and nurtured him,” said Sumariwalla.