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How missing 2019 World Championships made Neeraj Chopra Olympic Champion

Neeraj Chopra admits how AFI president Adille Sumariwalla was right in not letting him participate in the 2019 World Athletics Championships after a career-threatening surgery.

Aditya K Halder Written by: Aditya K Halder @addyhalder
New Delhi Updated on: August 12, 2021 19:50 IST
Neeraj Chopra
Image Source : AP

Neeraj Chopra exults after winning Tokyo Olympics gold medal. 

From 143k to 1.5 million Twitter followers overnight, that's what happened when a certain Neeraj Chopra became India's first track and field Olympic Champion at the recently-culminated 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

While Neeraj has been a popular face among ardent Indian athletics followers since he became the first Indian to win the World Under-20 Championships in 2016, the overnight increase in the number of followers suggests only an Olympic medal can make you a household name.

And nobody understood that better than Athletics Federation of India president Adille Sumariwalla -- a former Olympian and 11-time 100m national champion -- as back in 2019 he compelled an injury-stricken Neeraj to dump the idea of participating in the athletics' biggest event World Athletics Championships for the greater good: Tokyo Olympics.

To rejig readers' minds, Neeraj's Olympics ambition was given a harsh blow when a year before the Olympics in May 2019, the national record holder had to undergo career-threatening elbow surgery. With the cut-off date of Olympic qualification inching closer back then, Neeraj was eager to get back to the field and compete at the September's World Championships.

Speaking to exclusively last March, Sumariwalla recalled how there was pressure from the media to let him participate but after consulting with Neeraj's coach Bartonietz Klaus the AFI chief knew Neeraj is not ready.

"If you remember, there was a lot of media pressure on us to let him play; there was pressure from everybody but I said nothing doing and then we sat with him and the biomechanics coach explained why it was important for him to not rush into competitions while working on his technique in practice," said Sumariwalla, who also delivered the gold medal to Neeraj at the Olympics.

The senior AFI official then went on to give what could be called a riveting and keen insight on what caused Neeraj's injury back then and explained why it was important to guide the youngster into opting for what was best for him.

"The root cause of his problem wasn't his elbow but somewhere else. He was ready to throw in training but not in competitions.  He had nagging shoulder and back issues and he tried to compensate for that with his elbow as the last jerk to generate enough power. Once we understood that, we wanted it to be corrected first before letting him compete again," Summariwala explained.

Click here to read more from that interview: Neeraj Chopra's consistency shows he means business in Tokyo

AFI's interference did seem to have done wonders because in two back-to-back competitions -- separated by a year due to COVID-19 pandemic -- Neeraj hurled as big as Olympic qualification throw of 87.86m and resettling national record at 88.07m; giving glimpses of what to expect at the Olympics.

As a matter of fact, Neeraj himself admitted while talking to media that the AFI president was right in not allowing him to participate in the World Athletics Championships.

"Looking back, I think Adille sir made the right call by not allowing me to go for the World Championships. After surgery, I was really eager to compete because the throws which were winning gold medals (World C'ship medal came at 86.89m), I was capable of matching those but he was right that it was important for me to recover properly first and then compete," said Neeraj.

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