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After ascent of top peak in Germany and vacation, Neeraj’s coach gets back to business


Express News Service

CHENNAI: “When I reached home (in Germany), there was a rainbow. A perfect double rainbow… 180 degrees. It was fascinating. I have never seen such a perfect rainbow before. Then I thought, ‘this is Mother Nature greeting me’.” This was Klaus Bartonietz after reaching home from the Tokyo Olympics where his ward Neeraj Chopra won a gold.

He is an affable man who echoes Vince Lombardi’s philosophy: “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect”. He takes joy in the simplicity of nature, loves to stay positive and, at 73, he damn well knows the vicissitudes of life and how to overcome them calmly. Despite training champions, his passion has not dwindled. He has just finished reading ‘Brief Answers to the Big Question’ by Stephen Hawking and is fascinated as much by the uncertainties of the quantum world as by the certainty of yielding results through perfect training. The challenges he surmounts and the relationships he shares with his wards help him groom athletes. Neeraj is one such example.

While Neeraj was jet-setting between venues for hundreds of felicitation programmes after his Tokyo gold, Klaus was leading a quiet life in the salubrious silence of his native village in Germany. Some of his friends and those who follow sports knew he had come back from the Olympics with a gold (as a coach) but there was no craze. “They used to says, ‘oh, here is the coach who won a gold with his ward’,” he recalled to The New Indian Express.

As soon as he reached home, he fulfilled his dream to climb atop the highest peak in Germany Zugspitze (2962m). “I said I would go there and summit the peak and I did it,” he says rather triumphantly. After spending some time in Germany, his wife and he left for Madeira (a Portuguese island) for a vacation in the end of September. There was work at home too. Preparing for the winter and cutting wood was one such vocation.

Vacation is over now. The German coach is well aware of the job in hand. The pressure would be immense after the Olympic gold as all eyes would be pinned on every step Neeraj takes. But Klaus is not worried. Neeraj’s work ethic makes things easier for him. “He had put on weight but now he is getting fitter,” chuckles Klaus. “He is a very sincere trainee. We have to start managing his load as he gains full fitness.” Targets have been set for next year too. The World Championships in Oregon in July would be his ward’s toughest test. That elusive Worlds medal surely is a realistic target now.

Klaus and Neeraj will be travelling to South Africa in the first week of December and will be there for some time. According to the coach, there is a possibility that Neeraj may enter a couple of minor local events. “Not serious,” he says. But, of course, everything would be worked out with the Athletics Federation of India and the Sports Authority of India.  

As per the plan, the coach plans to start international competition with the Doha Diamond League on May 13 followed by the Golden Spikes in Ostrava on May 31. “We could have a training and competition camp in Finland after that,” says Klaus. “This year, it was very good for Neeraj.” There could be a couple of competitions on June 14 (Kladno) and June 18 (Kourtane, Finland). “Kourtane had been good this year and it was like a mini-World Championships where top throwers including German Johannes Vetter and 2012 Olympic champion (Keshorn Walcott) participated. Then we go to the World Championships.” However, details of acclimatisation and other logistics would be finalised in consultation with the AFI and SAI.

There are three big events in the span of two months that need careful planning. “I can tell you more as we near the competitions. I have already checked the dates. The World Championships qualification is on July 21 and July 23 is the final. There will be some 14 days between the final and the Commonwealth Games. We have to consider the jet leg and time difference as we head to Birmingham for the CWG. August 5 is the qualification and August 7 is the final. The challenge in CWG will be from the Pakistan thrower. For Asian Games, we will have some more time. We should do well.”

After winning the gold, pressure would be there but Klaus is not worried. “You always do not win. The best example is Vetter (who was the firm favourite going into the Olympics but failed to finish on the podium). Neeraj has won the junior Worlds, the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games and now the Olympics. The most important thing for an athlete is to improve. Ninety metres is just a number but one has to achieve it. Neeraj has the potential. He has already cleared 88.07m. He knows he can do it. One has to release the javelin properly. He is throwing 90m in training and with a lighter javelin. He is capable of breaching that and we will target this next year. It’s not about hurling with brutal power. It’s the technique and one has to perfect it. It’s more challenging after the Olympic gold.”

Keeping Neeraj free of niggles would also be a challenge. “With the help of our physio, Ishan, we must ensure he remains injury-free. Many small issues can flare up. The good thing is he is not doing this for money, but out of passion. Getting a gold and improving constantly is what he wants. He knows what he can do with a javelin. Another trait that is touching is that he helps other athletes in whatever way he can.”

The world awaits with expectations as Neeraj and his team turn a new chapter. 

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