MUMBAI (Reuters) – Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra will have to wait another year before chasing India’s first Olympic track and field medal in Tokyo but the delay may turn out to be a blessing in disguise, the 22-year-old has told Reuters.
The Commonwealth and Asian Games champion, seen as one of India’s best medal prospects at the Games, spent the whole of 2019 recovering from an elbow operation on his throwing arm.
He only qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in January with a throw of 87.86 meters at a low-key meet in South Africa — his first competitive outing since September 2018.
But with the Tokyo Games put back by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Chopra will have more time to get himself into peak form.
“I was probably not 100% fit after the surgery I had,” he told Reuters from the National Institute of Sports in Patiala, where he is in quarantine after returning from a training camp in Turkey.
“So the goal will be to be even better prepared than I was for this year’s Games.
“I had found very little time to work on my technique as I was concentrating more on rehab. I didn’t have much time to work on my throws as I started very late. Now I will try to solve the problems that I have noticed.”
Chopra, who had to rush home from Turkey after India started banning flights from Europe to contain the spread of the coronavirus two weeks ago, was not surprised when the Games were put back to July and August of 2021.
“Even before the decision was announced, it had occurred to me that because of the prevailing situation it is quite likely that the Olympics will get postponed,” he said.
“But it’s not too much of a problem because with the way things are in the world today it was necessary to postpone the Games. There was no point in carrying on with the Games or athletes going to participate in this situation.”
Chopra became only the third man from India to win an athletics gold at the Commonwealth Games when he took title in April 2018 with a throw of 86.47.
After throwing 87.43 at the Doha Diamond League meeting the following month he claimed a personal best at the Asian Games in Jakarta soon afterwards, his gold medal winning throw of 88.06 also the IAAF’s sixth longest of the year.
Hailing from the state of Haryana, which is better known for producing wrestlers and kabaddi players, Chopra studied videos of Jan Zelezny after deciding to pick up a javelin.
Zelezny’s throw of 98.48 in 1996 still stands as the world record and Chopra says he modelled his own throwing style and technique on the Czech’s.
“I have heard that javelin athletes peak after 24-25 years of age,” he said.
“Even when Jan Zelezny did the world record he was about 28-29. So this one year may prove to be more fruitful for me.”
While India is credited with Norman Pritchard’s sprint and hurdles silver medals from the 1900 Olympics before it gained independence from Britain, the world’s second-most populous nation considers itself never to have won an athletics medal at the Games.
“If people have hopes of a medal from me, that is not really so much pressure,” Chopra said.
“It is a good thing for an athlete that people have these expectations and they think he can do well and make history.
“That is fine, my job is to try live up to those expectations.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford