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Asian Games 2018: Not surprised by Neeraj Chopra’s gold, says first coach Jai Choudhary

Lack of outdoor activity options in Khandra — a nondescript village around 30 minutes from Panipat (Haryana) — meant Surinder Chopra had no option but to push Neeraj Chopra into some kind of fitness regimen.

asian games 2018 Updated: Aug 27, 2018 22:47 IST
Navneet Singh
Navneet Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Asian Games 2018,Neeraj Chopra,Asian games
Neeraj Chopra won gold for India with a throw of 88.06m, which is a national record.(REUTERS)

From an overweight 13 year-old in 2011 to an Asian Games champion in 2018, the journey of Neeraj Chopra is quite intriguing. Seven years ago, Surinder Chopra observed that his nephew Neeraj was developing a bulge around his waist.

Lack of outdoor activity options in Khandra — a nondescript village around 30 minutes from Panipat (Haryana) — meant Surinder had no option but to push the teenager into some kind of fitness regimen. So whenever he went to Panipat for some work, Surinder used to take Neeraj along and drop him at the Shivaji Stadium where a family friend oversaw his pursuit of fitness.

It was sheer coincidence he met former national level javelin thrower Jai Choudhary at the stadium. One day Choudhary asked Neeraj to try his hand at javelin. “Neeraj’s approach was like a seasoned thrower. Despite being a novice, he had good technique. It told him to continue training and he agreed,” said Choudhary from Panipat.

“He was very dedicated and ready to work hard. That made him extra-ordinary among the kids. Since he was a regular at the stadium he started slimming down as well,” said Choudhary.

Since there was no frequent means of public transport from Neeraj’s village to Panipat, the athlete and coach shifted to Panchkula near Chandigarh where facilities were far better. During training, according to Choudhary, the basic focus was on technique. “Since he had good strength we never did any gym workout but fundamental strength drills to improve throwing skills,” said the coach. “Since he was very hard working, he made rapid improvement.”

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In 2013 he participated in the World Youth Championships held in Ukraine but didn’t finish at the podium. Two years later, when Neeraj represented Haryana at the National Games in Kerala, he caught the eyes of Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and was inducted in the junior coaching programme.

After winning gold at the 2016 SAF Games in Guwhati with a national record of 82.23m, Neeraj missed the cut for the Rio Olympics. When the AFI appointed Australian javelin throw expert Garry Calvert — who died earlier this year — it further helped Neeraj polish his throwing technique. His rise was rapid. The Australian guided Neeraj to a sensational javelin gold at the under-20 World Athletics Championships in Poland with a record throw of 86.48m.

And so it wasn’t a surprise for Choudhary when Neeraj became Asian Games champion on Monday. He always had that confidence in him. “It was on the cards,” he said.

First Published: Aug 27, 2018 22:47 IST