If one sees the level of competition at the World Championships, it is much tougher than the Olympics. Winning in Tokyo and backing it with a Worlds medal is really great. Neeraj has proved again that he is a world-class athlete. When he made the first two throws (a foul and 82.39m), I was a little unsure of what is going to transpire. But then after his third throw, I knew something big was coming. Despite starting off poorly, he made a comeback and that is what top-class athletes have the quality to do.
Even while he was a junior, I predicted he would win an Olympic medal and also join me in the Worlds club. I know when I see the spark of a champion. I am glad that someone has finally bagged a Worlds medal after 19 long years. I have often met and spoken to Neeraj post-Olympics, but never gave him advice. An Olympic champion needs no advice.
Neeraj’s medal reminds me of my Paris journey. After competing in a series of events in the run-up to the Worlds, my body gave up. In my last meet just 20 days before the Worlds, I could manage only a 6.38m jump while having a fever. My body was drained. I also developed swelling in my knee and just wanted to go home. But Robert Bobby, my coach and husband, sort of tricked me. He said we could just go to Paris and watch the event.
It was extremely a tense moment till this throw from @Neeraj_chopra1 !!#NeerajChopra is a true Champion who delivers the best shots when it desperately matters like all greatest Champions do in biggest platforms, Olympics & World Championships ! pic.twitter.com/3OUGJqy9Qy
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) July 24, 2022
We landed in Paris 19 days before the finals and Bobby told me to forget about sports. For about four days, we just went out to explore the city, took walks in the parks and had nice meals. To keep my mind away from sports, Bobby asked me to keep away my tracks and sporting gear. Only casual clothing.
After four days, we tried some light training and I could feel that my strength was returning. It also made a difference that I saw and met other top athletes who were in Paris for the Worlds. But I have to give Bobby all credit. He micromanaged everything. He prepared the calendar. I just followed him blindly. He took quick decisions and just relayed them to me.
He set some fitness targets and I fared well. So, we decided to take part. Bobby restructured my training. When Mike Powell joined us in Paris, he saw me doing sprints training and told Bobby: “She’s flying”. Powell saying that was a huge thing for us. I regained my confidence before the finals and gave my best to win India’s first Worlds medal.
— Athletics Federation of India (@afiindia) July 24, 2022
As far as the Worlds medal club is concerned, I am really happy that someone has joined me here. It was a long wait. But hopefully, for the next Worlds medal, the wait won’t be that long. We are setting up our training facilities in Bengaluru with a world-class track. Bobby needs some outside support to get training equipment and other allied facilities. With talented athletes like Shaili (Singh) under him, he can recreate the magic.
All this was possible only because of a proper training plan and coach. Neeraj has done the same. Competing in Europe against the best in the world must have been a huge confidence booster. It is not just how one trains but also who one trains around. When one sees big stars training, one observes them and learns. Neeraj should continue to train in Europe and challenge these top athletes regularly. He is a special athlete as he has proved he can sustain momentum. Now others need to take inspiration from him.
(Anju Bobby George , who won India’s first World Championship medal in 2003, spoke to Andrew Amsan)