Despite being inundated with accolades for winning India's first Olympic gold medal in athletics, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra didn't forget to call his coach to express gratitude.
"Neeraj called me on Sunday morning. He said he could achieve the feat with my blessings," Kashinath Naik, the former coach of Neeraj Chopra, told IANS.
Naik, a Subedar in Indian Army in Pune, trained Chopra between 2015 and 2017 at the Patiala national camp. Naik, joined Indian Army in 2000 after being inspired by Kargil war and went on to become 14-time national champion in javelin throw. After suffering a shoulder injury in 2011, Naik turned to coaching.
"Neeraj has never changed since 2015. His down to earth nature is still intact. Even to this day, he takes suggestions in the positive spirit," said Naik.
Most of the medallists begin to ignore coaches. The attitude never caught up with Neeraj, he complimented. Naik recalled that when Chopra had joined the camp, he needed gym training. He lacked strength and these areas were focused. Chopra worked with a mission and in a disciplined manner. He used to not talk to anyone during practices and especially during training on techniques, his focus never wavered, he explained.
Chopra had been confident since his formative days and was selected to the national camp due to his spirit and confidence.
"I won a medal in the Commonwealth Games, however, I could not see my national flag being hoisted and our national anthem being played. The dream has been realised through Neeraj Chopra," Naik said emotionally.
"Initially, as a junior, Chopra was able to throw about 69 metres. He had that winning spirit. He participated in a competition and came second after Devendra Singh. In 2016, Neeraj went on to participate in Asian Games and managed to record 82.2 metres and create a national record. He bettered his record in Junior World Championship held in Poland with 86.48 meters," Naik remembered.
"He suffered elbow injury in 2019 and came back strong. During our days throws of 80 metres were considered the highest. Junior level boys manage that distance these days. The younger generation, looking up to Chopra, now will have more resolve to achieve the feat yet again. They get confidence. The medals came for the country in wrestling, badminton and boxing. Henceforth, we can expect medals in athletics at international competitions," added Naik.
Naik has also trained Annu Rani (Asian Games and Asian Championships medallist and Olympic participant in women's javelin), Shivpal Singh (Asian Championship medallist and World Championships participant), Samarajith Singh (Asian Championship medallist), Devendra Singh (Asian Championship medallist, World Championship finalist) and Manu (national medallist).
Chopra had won gold medals at Junior World Championships and Asian Games after being trained by Naik.
The Karnataka government, recognising the service of Naik, has announced Rs 10 lakh cash award. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai proudly stated that the state has also contributed to Chopra's feat.
Naik stated that whenever there is an achievement, all the credit goes to the sportsperson. Coaches equally sweat and struggle with them and society needs to recognise that fact. The feat by Chopra will be cherished by aspiring youngsters. The inspiration taken by the untapped talent pool in rural areas will be huge, he underlines.