Former coach recalls chubby Neeraj Chopra with a notebook, now an Olympic gold medallist
Once a chubby kid with his notebook, Chopra now has an Olympic gold
Javelin coach Naseem Ahmad remembers the day in 2011 when a chubby 13-year-old named Neeraj Chopra came to the Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex in Panchkula. The teenager travelled over four hours from his native, Khandra village, near Panipat, to enquire about the process of getting admission at the sports academy that had one of the only two synthetic tracks available in Haryana at the time.
That was a big step for the youngster to take in his budding athletics career. An even bigger one, the biggest yet, came on Saturday, when he launched a javelin 87.58 metres at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium to become only the second individual gold medallist at the Olympics from the country.
It’s an achievement that has created memories, and one that has brought back quite a few for Ahmad.
“I still remember how Neeraj would watch his seniors training at the nursery,” recalls an emotional Ahmad.
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“He’d sit with his notebook and take tips from them. He would never shy away from training and would always set targets of winning each day’s round with the group. To see him win the gold medal today on the biggest stage is the greatest joy for us. And I am sure he will be spending time with the javelin throwers from the other countries just like he did here with his seniors and friends post training or competition.” shares an emotional Ahmad.
Chopra first learnt the art of javelin throwing from coach Jaiveer Singh in Panipat. In Panchkula he trained from 2011 till early 2016. But it wasn’t just the field event Ahmad would make him train for. At the stadium near the foothills of the Shivalik Range, Chopra’s morning sessions would be followed by him training with the long-distance runners, and then the javelin event again in the evening.
Staying at the hostel also meant that the 23-year-old would remain under Ahmad’s strict watch. But he doesn’t recall Chopra going astray – most of the youngster’s free time was spent reading books about his event, or pestering seniors to show him videos of old javelin events from Olympics past. At the same time, he started to perfect his craft in practice as well.