When Australian javelin expert Garry Calvert arrived in February last year, he found most of India’s top throwers struggling due to lack of direction.
By gradually restructuring their training schedule, the respected Aussie coach began moulding the core group of javelin throwers to enter the elite zone. Results were outstanding as teenager Neeraj Chopra went on to enter the world league with a sensational gold-medal winning effort in the 2016 IAAF Under-20 world athletics championships in Poland. His winning throw of 86.48m was both a junior world mark as well as the Indian national record.
Garry Calvert was instrumental in shaping the success story of Jarrod Bannister, who in 2008 hurled the spear to 89.02m, which is still the Australian record.
However, Calvert hit a wall trying to engage with India’s athletics authorities in a bid to change the track and field set-up here. Within six months of his two-year contract, fissures developed between him and the Athletics Federation of India (AFI). The gap widened with each passing day, and it eventually resulted in the Australian quitting his India post and promptly signing a four-year contract with China.
The Aussie insisted on a contract extension until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but Sports Authority of India and AFI wanted him to draw up the long-term training plan and wait. Calvert decided he won’t, and quit last month.
As the Aussie packed to leave New Delhi this week, he spoke to HT about his 15-month experience in India.
Q. What was your goal for the Asian Grand Prix, the last competition series with Indian athletes?
Calvert: It wasn’t on my calendar. Since the athletes were in the middle of strength training, we were reluctant to compete. But the federation insisted they should.
Q. Were you satisfied with the overall performances?
Calvert: Certainly, the first competition of the season and the throwers were touching the 80m mark. Since the athletes are yet to peak, the overall results hint that the training is on the right track.
For example, Neeraj’s silver-winning throw of 83.32m (he met the qualifying mark for the August world athletics in London) was only 80 percent, and it means by July-August, he should be touching the 87m mark.
Q. Your experience during the Asian GP?
Calvert: Three competitions within a week are not advisable. No proper meals, custom clearance and travelling at odds hours, it was very taxing on the athletes. The Asian federation should think about changing the competition schedule.
Q. What was your goal for Neeraj Chopra this year?
Calvert: Our basic goal this year was to enter the final in the World Championships in August. We had planned the year accordingly. I don’t expect Neeraj or other throwers to peak in April and then continue to sustain their efforts till August, and do well in the worlds. It’s difficult.
Q. Are you confident of Neeraj doing as well at senior level?
Calvert: He is a gifted athlete. He believes he can do it. That kind of attitude has made him an extraordinary thrower. He is also very supple and agile. When I took over in February, his best throw was 82.23m, but he improved to 86.48m. At 19, he is ranked among the elite athletes. With good training, he can definitely achieve the 90m mark.
Q. Are Indian athletes ambitious?
Calvert: Youngsters are keen to excel, but there should be a good system to nurture budding athletes. Athletes in the age group of 12-18 don’t have access to necessary training tools. Some don’t have proper training shoes. After Neeraj set the world record, I was flooded with requests on social media for help on how to improve performance. It shows athletes have the desire but lack proper guidance.
Q. Your views on the Indian coaching system?
Calvert: Indian experts need to learn more. In fact, every day is a learning process for all. Even I learn from others. For better results there has to be an organised coaching system in the country. There has to be a pool of good coaches to train potential athletes, and high performance coaches for the elite group.
Q. What are the issues that need to be addressed for better results?
Calvert: A professional approach is missing. People have knowledge of track and field, but focus should also be on high performance. There is a lot of planning but no implementation. The team is cleared at the eleventh hour, and flights are booked at the last minute. All these issues affect performance.
Q. What factors are important for good performance?
Calvert: Good nutritious meal and proper sleep are two important aspects of training. If athletes follow it seriously, I think 40 percent of the goal is achieved. The remaining 60 percent can be achieved through a good coaching pattern. But I have observed that Indian athletes have poor eating habits.
Youngsters depend too much on food supplements and don’t take natural food. It’s not a health sign.