Discus thrower Seema Antil Punia became the country’s first athlete to win a medal in the World Championship. She clinched bronze at the 2002 junior world meet at Kingston, Jamaica. Her performance was expected to take Indian athletics to new heights. But she couldn’t live up to expectations and even had a lean patch of about four-five years, before getting back on track, winning gold at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.
The athlete, who admits she didn’t get the right grooming during her transition from junior to senior category, feels that javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, who became the junior world champion on Saturday, should aim for sports scholarship in some top American university if he wants to replicate the performance at the senior level.
“Neeraj’s achievement is a very big moment for Indian athletics. What he has achieved in Poland is amazing. But the real challenge is to take this victory forward and to do well in the senior category. For this, he has to be groomed properly… he should start taking his sporting career seriously,” Seema told HT from Maykop, Russia where she is training for the Rio Olympics.
“In athletics, you can’t excel everyday and there will be a dip in performance. People will forget that you were a champion once. For a junior, that is the most difficult thing to deal with, and, at times, it puts them under tremendous pressure. In my opinion, he should look for some top American university and train there for three-four years. The level of competition, environment and facilities for athletes there is beyond imagination. A stint there will help him mature faster,” she added.
The athletes, who are ruling the world today, established themselves at the junior level around the time Seema made a mark. But, today, the gap between the Indian and the others is far too wide.
“Usain Bolt was also competing during the 2002 junior World Championship in Jamaica. He won gold in 200m and silver in relay, while I won bronze in discus. But now see the difference. A number of world-beaters today, or those who have ruled these past three-four years, are from the 2000 and 2002 junior World Championship batch,” said Seema. “Somehow, I could not cash in on the scholarships offered to me by a couple of American universities. Otherwise, things would have been different. But Neeraj shouldn’t commit the same mistake.”