Paris Olympics: Is Neeraj Chopra little undercooked ahead of his title defence?

Olympic and world champion not willing to take any chances with an adductor niggle

Neeraj Chopra in action (photo courtesy: JSW Sports)
Neeraj Chopra in action (photo courtesy: JSW Sports)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The countdown for the Paris Olympics has begun for the Indian contingent and there are no prizes for guessing that a billion hopes will again rest on Neeraj Chopra to bring back a medal in javelin – if not retain his gold. A slightly worrying aspect at this point is whether the reigning Olympic and world champion will be a little undercooked in terms of exposure to competitions as he heads for the showpiece.

Earlier this week, Chopra announced his withdrawal from the Paris leg of the Diamond League on Sunday (7 July) amid reports of him not willing to take chances with an adductor muscle niggle which had been bothering him for the last couple of months. This effectively means the javelin ace, regarded as arguably India’s greatest ever athlete, will be heading for the Games on the back of only three events this season.

 Any news of a potential threat to Chopra’s title-defence in Olympics becomes a matter of national concern and the 26-year-old took to his social handle to clarify that the Paris leg was not on his calendar – and hence there was no question of him pulling out. “Hello, everyone. Just to clarify: the #ParisDL wasn’t part of my competition calendar this season, so I haven’t ‘withdrawn’ from it. I’m focusing on getting ready for the Olympic Games,’’ Chopra wrote on his X handle.

“Thanks for your understanding and support, and wishing all the athletes competing all the best! #RoadToOlympics,” Chopra posted.

Interestingly, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) had granted him an exemption from participating in their Inter-State Athletics meet at Panchkula last weekend (28-30 June) on the understanding that the ace was lined up for the Paris Diamond League. The three events which Neeraj participated in the new season were Doha Diamond League (where he finished with a silver), AFI Federation Cup and Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland (gold in both).

 Speaking to ESPN India, Chopra explained: “I could have competed in more events for sure and that was the plan. But I have realised that my health is paramount, that comes first. Even if I feel the slightest discomfort or like I am pushing myself too much in training, I’ve learnt to pause for a bit.”

While it’s the prerogative of Neeraj and his support team led by coach Klaus Bartonietz to modify his schedule, there is a brewing concern over his fitness as he had earlier skipped the Ostrava Golden Spike meet as well. When asked by the National Herald, AFI president Adille Sumariwalla said: ‘’I have been assured by his coach that there are no problems with Neeraj’s fitness. Sometimes, an athlete’s team takes a decision for some technical reasons which need not be made public.’’ 

Incidentally, the strength of India’s javelin campaign in Paris took a hit as D.P.Manu – who made the finals of the last World Championship in Budapest along with Neeraj and Kishore Jena – was indicted of using performance enhancing drugs. ‘’Manu will not be a part of the squad. It’s strange as to how could this have happened as he had been tested at least 14 times in the past year. However, we have a zero-tolerance policy about drugs and he will have to miss out,’’ the AFI president confirmed.

Chopra's best effort in 2024 has been 88.36 metres for a silver in Doha, though Czech Jakub Vadlech was only fractionally better than him for the gold with 88.38 m. Experience has taught him to know his body better – and the areas of the craft which he needs to work at rather than putting his body in the line.  

“I need to strengthen my blocking leg when I throw because that’s when my groin gets pulled. We’re working on that to see how we can reduce the impact on the groin and control the pressure on it,’’ Chopra explained, before adding: “Back then, if I had an entry in a competition, I would definitely go and compete no matter what. But now, with more experience, I am better placed to make correct decisions,” the champion said.

“I was happy with my performance in Turku (Paavo Nurmi Games), but I felt there was more work to do. I was slow on the runway compared to my normal speed. I want that speed back and for that I need proper confidence that I am fully fit,” Chopra added.

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