THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Neeraj Chopra’s Whatsapp display betrays his state of mind. It has the image of a black panther, half the face cropped out, and a message on it saying “Focus. If you want to reach that goal so bad, you will have to make sacrifices. Stay focused, stay passionate.”
Neeraj needs all the motivation that he can get, for right now he is experiencing what athletes dread — being out of action due to injury. An elbow surgery has kept him out for months and it has come at the worst possible time. There is less than a year to go for the Olympics and he hasn’t picked up a javelin for a while. “I felt that the message was apt, if you have a goal, then you have to be fully focused on it,” says the 21-year-old.
After some confusion, it emerged earlier this week that Neeraj has qualified for the upcoming World Championships in Doha. It was revealed that the 68th All India Inter-Services Athletics Championships in Jalahalli held in September last year, where Neeraj had thrown 83.90m, fulfilled all the criteria to be considered as a World Championships qualifier.
But the Panipat youngster is taking it one step at a time. “I am not thinking about the World Championships now because I have not started preparations for it,” he says. “Right now, I’m in rehab for my elbow injury. I am not properly fit, so I’m not worrying too much about the World Championships. Once I start my preparations, I can say where I am w.r.t World Championships. I am at the Indian Institute of Sport (Vijayanagar). I have not started training with a javelin. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes. The immediate task is getting back to full fitness,” says Neeraj.
Neeraj’s career was brought to an abrupt halt just when it appeared he was soaring above the glass ceiling most Indian athletes are trapped under. He had a memorable 2018, blowing away the opposition at Commonwealth and Asian Games. Just days after setting a national record in Jakarta, Neeraj grabbed headlines once again in Zurich when he came within a whisker of bronze at Diamond League finals. The entire country was captivated by his exploits and he was talked about as one of India’s biggest medal hopes in Tokyo. That was when tragedy struck, an elbow injury followed by surgery in March.
“You use your elbow a lot while throwing a javelin. I had the operation at the Kokilaben Hospital in Mumbai. I tried to stay positive. I did not think about my injury or worry about what it would do to my game. I focused on getting proper rest and looking after my diet,” says Neeraj.
He is doing what he can and hoping for the best. “It’s always difficult not being able to participate in competitions. I have also not trained properly for a while due to the injury. But that’s fine, you have to go through both good and bad times. I will come back stronger.”
AFI against risk
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) doesn’t want to risk Neeraj in the World Championship. According to AFI secretary CK Valson, it’s early to decide, considering that Neeraj hasn’t started preparations yet. “We have to see how he shapes up before coming to a conclusion,” he said. Olympics coming up next year, the AFI doesn’t want to take a chance.