CHENNAI: Training during Covid is indeed a challenge, but finding a place abroad is always turning out to be a bigger challenge. And if the programme gets altered at the last moment, then the task gets much more difficult. This is what Tokyo 2020 gold medallist Neeraj Chopra's team faced after his original plan to train in South Africa got shelved due to concerns over the new variant Omicron.
The idea of all stakeholders -- the Athletics Federation of India, Target Olympic Podium Scheme, and his sponsor JSW sports -- was to find him a place that would suit his training. Since it's winter in Europe, the team thought it would be prudent to choose a place in the US. Finally, after days of back-and-forth emails from various centres in the US, Neeraj's team chose Chula Vista, San Diego in California as the venue.
According to the Sports Authority of India, Neeraj would fly out of the country on December 5 and the cost of the tour would be around Rs 47 lakh. The proposal sent by the AFI was cleared on an urgent basis so that he can fly out by Sunday before more travel restrictions are in place. He would be accompanied by his coach Klaus Bartonietz. Even his physio Ishaan Marwah would be there with him.
Chula Vista, where elite athletes train, did agree to host Neeraj but staying inside the premises would be until late December as of now and his team has to find accommodation outside the campus. Things however are getting more and more difficult because of the new Covid variant Omicron. The team might look for a place where he can stay and train after December.
Neeraj was one of the first to join the national camp at the National Centre of Excellence, Patiala, in October and has been training there since. Getting back to fitness was his first priority before increasing the load. Due to winter setting in, Patiala will only get colder. The practice is done late in the morning and gets over early in the evening. There are issues that are affecting his training as well.
There are times when he has to leave camp for some obligation or another. There are too many distractions and getting him out of the country seems the logical move.
If Chula Vista gets inconvenient later because of staying outside, the team might look for an alternative. It's yet to be decided but the IMG training centre in Florida could one. But nothing is clear. Akin to his trip to Portugal before the Olympics, there is too much uncertainty.
After the US, Turkey could be the next stop sometime in March before the domestic season. He is expected to start his international participation with Doha Diamond League in May.