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Injured Neeraj Chopra pulls out of Asian Championship
Injured Neeraj Chopra pulls out of Asian Championship

Reigning champion javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra will not take part in the Asian Athletics Championships in Doha, which is slated to begin on April 21, due to a strain on his elbow. “His coach told us it’s not a serious issue & that Neeraj could return to the field in a week’s time,” deputy chief coach Radhakrishnan Nair.

Reigning Commonwealth Asian Games champion javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra will not be boarding the flight to Doha for the Asian Championships, slated to begin on April 21, due to strain on his elbow.

Reigning Commonwealth Asian Games champion javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra will not be boarding the flight to Doha for the Asian Championships, slated to begin on April 21, due to strain on his elbow. The defending champion, who returned recently after a training stint under coach Uwe Hohn from Potchefstroom, South Africa, had cut short his training on Friday after feeling discomfort during the throwing session.

“His coach told us it’s not a serious issue & that Neeraj could return to the field in a week’s time but we did not want to take any chances. We are preserving him for the World Championships. He informed us just yesterday (Friday) that he wasn’t feeling 100 percent fit so we have decided to not send him for the competition. We won’t take any chances,” deputy chief coach Radhakrishnan Nair told The Indian Express.

Neeraj’s name adds to the growing list of star athletes missing the event due to injury. Asian Games gold medallist 800m runner Manjit Singh & quarter miler Dharun Ayyasamy too have pulled out of the event due to injuries. Steeplechaser Sundha Singh, who is recovering from typhoid, too has withdrawn. She did not take part in her confirmatory trials on Saturday. Dharun has aggravated a stress fracture on his shin which will take at least a month to heal. He has been given a two-week break from the camp to continue his treatment in Tamil Nadu.

“I am confident of regaining shape before the Worlds. I am a bit disappointed on missing out on the Doha event but this how sports is. I will continue my recovery with my personal doctor back home,” the 2018 Asian games silver medallist said, while pointing towards a lump on his left shin.

Chopra, who had a fine 2018, was given an exemption from the season-opening Federation Cup (the selection event for the Asian Championships) in March. He is yet to take take part in any competition in 2019 & underwent an elbow surgery earlier this year. The surgery had hampered his training stint in South Africa. His coach Hohn did not wish to comment & refused to provide an update on Chopra’s current status.

Jab javelin ke liye ghar bhi chhod diya, toh sweets chhodne mein kya dikkat hai (When I could quit home for javelin, how difficult is quitting sweets)?” chortles Neeraj Chopra, mouthing words that his 13-year-old self would probably find blasphemous.

The transformation is complete. In more ways than one, the 21-year-old Chopra is nothing like his 13-year-old self could have imagined.“You know how much people in Haryana like milk & ghee,” explains Chopra, as he compares himself to his teenage days when he had to be exhorted by a family member to reduce weight.

“But now I’ve stopped eating sweets & oily food completely. My diet is mostly just veggies & salads complemented by juices & chicken.”

Having returned to India after a strenuous off-season conditioning camp of over two months in South Africa’s Potchefstroom, Chopra says that he is in the best shape of his life. His body fat percentage has dropped to 8.7 per cent. When he left for South Africa, it was hovering between 12 & 13 per cent. For context, when Vincenzo Nibali won the 2014 Tour de France—the toughest test of credentials for cyclists—his body fat was just under seven per cent.

On the other hand, Chopra’s weight (currently 88-89kg) has remained nearly the same as it was when he was competing in the 2018 Asiad, where he threw his personal best of 88.06m to win gold.
What this means is that Chopra has managed to increase his throwing power without having to pile on weight which could have affected his chucking speed.

“When I reached Potchefstroom, reducing my body-fat percentage wasn’t specifically a target. But we knew we had to work on aspects like core strength. The training was so intensive even for off-season that I ended up losing body fat while my muscle mass increased. I’ve focused more on conditioning during the off-season than ever before,” Chopra tells Firstpost.

An elbow injury sustained in December before he left for Potchefstroom meant Chopra could not work completely on his throwing. But he was able to iron out the technical flaws that had led to the injury in the first place.

Uwe Hohn, Chopra’s coach who can boast of being the only athlete to have breached the 100m mark, had diagnosed that the problem was Chopra’s low-throwing-arm position. And while the injury upset his preparations for the 2019 season by nearly six weeks, Chopra & Hohn have managed to control the damage by working on his conditioning instead, for six to seven hours a day. Also lending a helping hand has been physiotherapist Ishan Marwaha, who, after being hired two years ago by JSW Sports, has been a constant presence by Chopra’s side.

“In South Africa, the focus was on fitness, primarily on improving my core strength. We did some work with medicine balls & lots of weightlifting. We also did running & jumping drills—things I had tried before as well,” Chopra says.

“But this time, I also did a lot of resistance sprint drills by tying weights behind me. I also started throwing in Potchefstroom. But casually, just three- or four-step throws. Nothing too intense. But now since the Asian Championships are around the corner, I need to start doing more intense throwing drills.”

Chopra has no number on his mind that he will set out to achieve in 2019, but he’s certain of what he can do at the upcoming Doha Asian Championships, which will be a precursor to the World Championships in September-October & next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“Each year, I’ve started the season with throws in the range of 82m. At the 2016 South Asian Games, I hit 82.23m to win gold. In 2017, I hit 82.11m at the first leg of the Asian Grand Prix to win silver. In 2018 as well I hit 82m in a German competition. I believe I could actually go further than that at the Asian Championships.”

Chopra’s real competition will be at the World Championships, where he will be confronted by the German troika of Thomas Röhler, Johannes Vetter & Andreas Hofmann. Rohler ― whose best effort is 93.90m & Vetter ― with 94.44m ― have both thrown the javelin 16 times over Chopra’s personal best of 88.06m. Hofmann has thrown 10 attempts over that mark.
Chopra, though, takes inspiration from the retired Jan Zelezny, who holds the men’s javelin world record.

“His body weight also was not that much, but he relied on speed. So, I don’t feel like I need to bulk up like the German throwers to match them. I know that can be achieved in other ways. I can focus on my speed & technique. I know my arms are really fast through the air. I will work on that.”