Neeraj Chopra: It was not easy staying patient during rehab

The javelin star talks about his period of recovery following an elbow surgery, his future plans, and more, in an interview.

File Photo: Missing the World Championships is disappointing, says Neeraj Chopra.   -  AP

Four months after an elbow surgery, Neeraj Chopra landed at the National Institute of Sports here on Monday to get back to throwing. Having worked on his strength and conditioning at JSW’s Inspire Institute of Sports, the javelin thrower has had to move base to stay with coach Uwe Hohn at the national camp.

Despite not participating, he was at hand to cheer the other javelin throwers during competition here on Thursday and spoke to Sportstar about his time out of action and future plans.

Excerpts

Q. Four months without any action, how was this period away from sports?

A. I had my surgery on May 2 but it wasn’t too difficult because I was not completely inactive. Yes it was difficult because of the injury but I continued my training and worked on fitness. Except for throwing or using the elbow, I was doing most of my regular training so it was OK. I tried to maintain my routine through this period and that helped a lot.

How did you manage this spare time?

It was a little difficult in the beginning but you cannot help injuries. There is nothing left to do, you cannot hurry your return or advance your recovery and come back before you are fully fit. It was not easy staying patient but I have learnt to do that now. You have to keep patience and stay positive and that’s what I tried and kept myself busy. In Mumbai during rehabilitation I made sure I took full time for every bit of training, extend even something as simple as stretching as much as possible. If there was time left I used to go to malls or elsewhere, anything to not allow the setback to affect my mind.

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How did you feel on your first day back at the track after rehab? When you picked up the javelin?

Stepping out on the track is something different, you cannot explain the feeling. I was training all this while but that moment of standing on the runway, the feeling of being a thrower even when you are not doing anything, is something that can only be felt by an athlete.

Picking up the javelin was different. There is a different kind of happiness you feel, like something was missing for so long but your body is now complete. It also felt like I was doing something for the first time ever but even that was a happy feeling.

How disappointing is it to miss the World Championships?

A lot. I had trained really hard for this year — for all the events but specially Worlds. There were many major events, the Diamond Leagues and the Asian Championships, have had to miss all of them. I will be training here for now but I will be meeting Dr. Dinshaw Pardiwala next week or so and then take a call on the Worlds and how to go further.

Are you worried about having to start all over again, specially with the Tokyo Olympics next year?

I am actually not worried about qualifying for Tokyo; I have enough time for that. The main disappointment is of missing the Worlds because it was something I had trained really hard for. Even in the Diamond Leagues the competition was not as hard as for the last couple of years. But this time was also important, I guess. Every time teaches something and I have learnt a lot in this period also both on and off the field. All of it will help me in future.

How does Neeraj Chopra see himself in relation to Indian athletics?

When I started, a lot of people used to say Indian athletics was far behind the world and javelin throw as a discipline even more so. It used to feel bad initially. But then suddenly in 2016, at the Junior World Championships, I managed that 86m throw. The Olympic medal that year went at 85m. After that throw, people started talking about India and I felt for the first time that we can do something on the world stage, that it wasn’t impossible. Now there are at least four-five guys who are crossing 80m, which is very good.

Can we say Neeraj has changed the way Indian athletics is seen by the world?

I cannot say anything for myself. I personally feel there is a long way to go for me; I don’t think I have done anything exceptional. But yes, it feels good when people talk about you, it feels proud to have done something for the country and our track and field. But I am not alone in this. Hima Das has also done very well at World Juniors, there is Sreeshankar also and of course the seniors like Milkha Singh, P. T. Usha, Anju Bobby George — they have all done and are doing their bit.

"I personally feel there is a long way to go for me; I don’t think I have done anything exceptional." Neeraj Chopra after having won the gold at the Asian Games in 2018. Photo: PTI

 

Does it add to the responsibility of being an ambassador of Indian athletics at the age of 21?

Yes there is responsibility but it is good responsibility, you cannot take that as pressure on yourself. It is good that people have so much hope from you and that should only act as motivation to do even better, work harder. We have to trust ourselves and not think too much of people pressure or expectations. If the training and self belief is good, competition results will only be good.

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At the end of the day, you are still a 21-year old. Are there things you do, like a normal 21-year old?

Everyone wants to eat well, dress well, look good. I too liked to do these things but initially it wasn’t easy, family resources didn’t allow all that. Even normal home food in Haryana is generally good but an athlete’s diet is completely different, you need a lot more. Only milk and ghee is not enough. But now I am slowly fulfilling all my likes. Hardwork and dedication have helped me reach a comfortable level where I can get what I want. I roam with friends, travel around, buy good clothes, eat well. But the biggest desire was to be a world-class athlete and I am slowly getting towards that as well. My only target now is to keep improving in my sport, stay focussed and achieve something here. Everything else can come later — it will come automatically if you stay focussed on your main target.