Neeraj Chopra (Getty Images)
NEW DELHI: There is a stark difference between what ace javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is used to while training and what he is doing now. However, he is just happy to be back outside even though for now it is without a javelin, an equipment that he has gained mastery over in his career but one that he could not do much with during the last two months.
“It was certainly a matter of great happiness,” Neeraj told IANS on Wednesday when asked about how he felt when he got the news of the resumption of outdoor training. “This is the reason why we are here at the camp, to train. So when that was not an option there was not much to do. For now we are looking to get back to the way we used to train before all this.
“It’s not good for an athlete to be away from training for too long. For the past two months I was doing some exercise to maintain core fitness but couldn’t really do anything holding a javelin. Now hopefully we can slowly get ourselves back to our routine.”
The 22-year-old is one of several elite athletes who were holed up in the hostels of the National Institute of Sport (NIS) in Patiala throughout the time that the lockdown had been imposed amid the coronavirus pandemic. He, along with a few other fellow javelin throwers, had arrived at NIS in mid-March from their foreign training camps to self-isolate themselves. Just under a week later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the first lockdown on March 25.
Outdoor training for athletes at NIS started on Monday but they are yet to be allowed to use their equipment. Neeraj however is not too bothered by that as he has to rebuild strength before going full steam.
“(Training) starts around 6.30am and for now we are not spending more than two hours. Slowly we will increase the intensity,” he said.
An elbow injury and subsequent surgeries had kept Neeraj out for the entirety of 2019. His last major event was the 2018 Asian Games where he smashed the national record to win gold. However, he qualified for the Tokyo Olympics on his first attempt in January this year. Over the course of the next three months, the pandemic would take truly global proportions, leading to the postponement of the Olympics to July 23 next year.
Neeraj said that he and his coaches are not too worried about a recurrence of that injury due to this enforced break.
“No, that is not much of an issue. I had completed my recovery fully and even participated in a few competitions here and there. So there is no fear of that injury recurring.
“But yes, my fitness levels have dipped a bit in these last two months. I have to get my elbow and shoulders back to full strength again and then only will I get back to the heavy training I used to do before,” he said.
“The coaches haven’t really taken a measure of exactly how much difference has come in the body. Maybe there could be a fitness test taken some time in the future but I don’t really know when. My weight has not really changed much, it’s just a few crucial muscles that need strengthening.”
Athletics Federation of India (AFI) had said last month that it is looking to resume the domestic calendar in September if the situation permits and President Adille Sumariwalla has made it clear that no foreign training camps will be held for any athlete this year. Neeraj said that with no competitions in the horizons, there is no rush to get back to training with full intensity.
“The thing is there are no competitions happening in the near future so we don’t need to rush with anything. This year at least until November there won’t be anything. There is no scope of going outside of course, for any training or competitions,” he said.
The new training schedule however is anything but what used to be the case earlier.
“We have to wear masks while coming and going. We don’t wear masks during training because that is not good for our health. Sanitisers are there and we all have to maintain social distancing all the time. We have to come right back to our rooms after training. Plus there is not too much high intensity training happening at the moment,” he said.
He is one of India’s foremost contenders for a medal at the Olympics and Neeraj says that all that he is doing now is with a target of being ready for the event next year.
“The Olympics is always there in my mind. For an event like that you have to start preparing from now. My focus is entirely on being ready in time for the Olympics,” he said.