Neeraj Chopra pleads for competitions abroad ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Neeraj Chopra pleads for competitions abroad ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Javelin superstar Neeraj Chopra made a passionate plea on behalf of the elite Indian track and field fraternity for the athletes to get experience of competitions before the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to start on July 23.

At an online interaction arranged by the Sports Authority of India on Wednesday, the 23-year-old  Neeraj spoke of how there is a huge difference between training in national camps in Patiala and actually getting to throw in big meets.

For someone who smashed his own national record in March (88.07 metres) at a meet in March in Patiala, lack of exposure and competitions abroad hurts. He spoke, rather emotionally, about how the Indian team could not go for the World Relays.

Neeraj Chopra

At the same time, he also mentioned how in some disciplines athletes were getting to travel abroad and take part in meets. Notable among this would be the Indian hockey team and of course the 15-member shooting squad which left for Croatia on Tuesday. They will train in a good atmosphere and possibly be taking part in two big events there before the Olympics.

For someone who burst onto the world stage in 2016 as a callow youth and won gold medal in the World Under-20 championship, the next two years were also good. The icing on the cake was 2018 when Neeraj won gold medals in the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia and the high profile Asian Games in Jakarta.

These two gold medals made Neeraj a hero at home. It is to his credit he did not get distracted by all the adulation. He stayed focussed. Of course, the injury in 2019 and recovery process was long. He minced no words when asked if the Olympics were held in 2020, if he would have been at a disadvantage.  “Yes, I am much better prepared now,” said Neeraj.

And then he spoke of how frustrating it is not to be getting competitions. Had it not been for Covid-19, he may have been at his base camp in South Africa. With travel restrictions galore, Neeraj stressed on how training in Patiala alone is not enough.

The weather in Patiala, even now, is hot. In coming weeks, it will be boiling. Neeraj spoke  of how the weather will get hostile and drain him. At the same time, he also had a subtle message for the Athletics Federation of India, the Sports Ministry and the Sports Authority of India. “It would be beneficial to have an indoor stadium in India where one can train without worrying about the vagaries of weather,” said Neeraj.

In any competitive sport, training and being match fit or event fit are different. The hype around Neeraj has been building globally as well, with one well-known publication touting him as a medal prospect in Tokyo. That is why Neeraj kept stressing on how training and practice sessions are fine but the competitive edge will come from rubbing shoulders with the best in business.

Neeraj said the distances at which javelin medals were decided in the last two Olympics in 2012 London and 2016 Rio were no indicator of how Tokyo would pan out. He hinted of having the capability to touch the 90-metre mark. For that, however, he will need to be in events abroad which will make a world of difference.

“The javelin world is different today. There are over half a dozen athletes who on that particular day can go over the 90-metre mark in Tokyo. I cannot make predictions about what will happen in Tokyo. I am slogging and staying in the most positive frame of mind. What  I am craving for is competitions which will fire me up further,” said Neeraj. He did not mince words when he said being in India had it own set of distractions.

For their part, the think-tank, Athletics Federation of India, sports ministry and SAI are racking their brains where the Indian track and field stars need to be base in the last 60-odd days. Each day is important and Neeraj’s interaction with the media amplifies the need for competing away from India to ensure a solid performance. He has the pedigree and the mental strength to do it. The extra zing for Neeraj will come If he gets to compete abroad.

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