Picture by 2021 Getty Images

How Neeraj Chopra honed his golden arm to bring home a Tokyo 2020 gold!

The javelin thrower has stopped at nothing short of gold on the grandest platforms
By Soham Mukherjee

Neeraj Chopra might well translate to 'the man with a golden arm' right now in India. Against all odds, against the best athletes, at the most grandiose sporting events in the world, Chopra has more often than not, managed to come out on top.

From an obese kid who picked up a javelin just by chance to becoming an Olympic champion, his career has peaked to levels the Indian athletic fraternity have not seen before. Before leaving for Tokyo, Chopra mentioned that his target is to beat the 90m mark. Although he stopped at 87.58m in the finals at Tokyo 2020, it was good enough for him to win India's first gold in track and field events in the history of the Olympic games.

How did Neeraj Chopra prepare to win the Olympics Gold?

For any athlete, Olympic preparation starts years before the quadrennial event. At the back of an Asian Games gold in 2018, Neeraj went to the IAAF Continental Cup with eyes set on the top prize. However, he finished sixth in the event and found out that his throws which generally travel straight are drifting towards the left and on one occasion, even went out of bounds. There was an unexpected technical snag in his throw which was needed to be rectified at the earliest.

But an elbow injury threw all plans out of the window. He could not compete for almost a year and had to undergo surgery on his throwing arm. That meant he missed the 2019 World Athletics Championship in Doha, and an opportunity lost to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. After rehabilitation, he decided to part ways with Uwe Hohn and started training under bio-mechanics expert Klaus Bartonietz.

He was set to return at the Ranchi Nationals, with a new technique that rectified his old flaw but advisors close to him told him to further delay his comeback. Over a year had passed and Neeraj had not participated in a competition. Time was running out for him to qualify for Tokyo 2020.

In January 2020, he finally threw all caution to the wind and travelled to South Africa to participate in the ACNW League Meet in Potchefstroom. On his comeback, he registered a whopping 87.86m, a distance that would have earned him gold at the World Championship. When he was slowly getting back to his rhythm, the Coronavirus pandemic stopped all action.

During the break, he further focused on refining his technique. He even started using a Nordic javelin from a Nemeth variant.

“It requires a lot of work to get the line and direction right on a Nordic javelin, but once your perfect the line, it can go further than a Nemeth one. So I will be hoping to use a Nordic javelin in a few competitions,” Chopra said.

In the Indian Grand Prix earlier in 2021, he showed that he was in mint condition for the event in Tokyo as he broke his own national record to post 88.07m. However, a lack of international competition experience was a concern. Finally, in June, he travelled to Portugal to take part in the Lisbon meet where he won gold with a maximum distance of 83.18m. And in the Olympics final round qualifiers when he took just 12 seconds to cement his place with a qualification high of 86.65m, India began to dream.

However, his strive for perfection continued even before his qualification throw.

“My coach told me this morning that I need to have a follow-through on my throws. In warm-ups, my body was going sideways after throwing. That was diluting my power. That’s why my coach asked me to follow the angle of the javelin. (Also) There’s no wind around the track, but there’s wind above and that causes a problem. That’s why I tried to throw it flat, and it clicked today,” he revealed after the event.

In the finals in his second throw, 20 strides, and one groan later, the scoreboard read 87.58m. He had done it!