CHENNAI: There is humility in his voice. His silence is morphed in seriousness, especially with the job in hand. He seldom takes credit for training a champion. He keeps away from the limelight and lets his ward soak in all the joys of success.
Coach Klaus Bartonietz loves to laugh, talk about hikes, treks and small joys of nature. And he happens to be the senior-most member of the Neeraj Chopra three-member family while training away from family and friends at home or abroad. Ishaan Marwaha, the physio, is the other member that ensures the athlete remains injury-free, fit and fine when the call for duty is announced. It’s a small family but a happy one.
The 73-year-old German coach likes it simple, bereft of the qualms and complicacies of the world. He believes knowing the limits of one’s body is essential, and there is no reason to push beyond a point. When Neeraj started training some time towards the end of last year, Bartonietz did not push. “He needed to be fit,” he said. “He was overweight and we (he and the physio) had to ensure he was fit before starting to throw.”
Forget the javelin, Neeraj was not even fit enough to throw the medicine ball! It took them more than a month before they started some throwing with balls first in January and later with the javelin. It was a process and it was slow cooking. For the coach, keeping the body and mind healthy is paramount.
Like Neeraj, even the coach was in a territory not trodden before. The thrower fouled his first throw at the World Championships final in Eugene on Saturday (early Sunday in India) and the next two throws were ordinary by his standard. Despite myriad emotions flashing by, the coach stayed calm. “It was challenging because of the conditions and the situation we were in but I was not worried,” he told this daily from Eugene while waiting for his ward to finish his dope control. “He has the experience. He knows that he has prepared well and he was close to 90m earlier. He knows he can throw big. One good throw is what he needed. So he needed to be calm and take that good throw. I just wanted him to relax and throw.” Relax, is one word that the coach loves to utter.
Even before a major competition, his drills are basic and he loves to work on the mind – the centre that controls the body. After the first two throws – which is crucial for Neeraj who doesn’t want to leave it late – it was all about the mind. “In competitions, it's about having a strong mind as the brain is controlling everything,” he said. “In fact, it is 90 per cent mental and 10 per cent physical, especially when you are in such a position. But I was confident because Neeraj has a very strong mind and he proved it strongly. It’s not easy to come back but he was confident and so were we.”
Even here during the interval between the qualification round and final, it was simple rituals without much stress. “Some speed training and light throws and squats,” he said. But mostly he wanted Neeraj to relax and not worry too much about the results. Their training in Turkey and later in Chula Vista after the European circuit had been very fruitful.
Like he had said, strengthening his hip and his legs (left one more) to support the throws were the most challenging part. “We had to make it gradual. You could see he had a good time after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics,” he laughed in his most inimitable style.
About the conditions in Eugene, which Neeraj had mentioned after his silver, Klaus said the wind was tricky. “It was windy and you don’t really know how the javelin would behave unless it was in the air,” he said. The coach, overall as always, has no complaints. “It’s a silver and a good show and I am very happy.”
With the Commonwealth Games event scheduled for August 7, the team is heading to Birmingham on Sunday (US time). Klau is also keeping a close watch at Neeaj’s thigh strain, which the latter admitted during an interaction. “Right now we are travelling to Birmingham and I hope it is not too bad.”
“Neeraj had fouled his first throw and only later could he see how the wind blew and how the javelin behaved. We have to keep a watch on that. In windy conditions the throw needed to be flatter as it would not be hanging in the air for too long. You cannot predict the wind. But those are the changes one has to adapt to while throwing.” And like the man he is, Klaus said there was nothing to worry about the conditions. One has to train perfectly for a perfect throw. That’s what he believes in and would continue believing in.