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The beginning of Neeraj Chopra saga: When javelin star impressed coach despite finishing 5th in state meet


The beginning of Neeraj Chopra saga: When javelin star impressed coach despite finishing 5th in state meet


Olympic Gold, a World Championships title, two Asian Games Gold medals, and a Commonwealth Games Gold. Neeraj Chopra doesn’t lose, these days.

But it’s not the results that have given him the ultimate joy, always. Even improving by a meter on his previous throw gives Neeraj Chopra, India’s javelin superstar, a lot of satisfaction.

It was in 2015 when the late Australian throwing coach Garry Calvert was scouting for throwers at a state meet in Haryana. Joining hands with JSW Sports, one of the leading sports management firms in the country, Calvert was out on a mission to identify throwing talents in Haryana.

A certain Neeraj Chopra took part in a state meet and the teenager, as usual, was having fun during the competition. Taking on more experienced throwers, Neeraj was going about his business when he caught the attention of Calvert and the scouts.

At the end of the competition, Neeraj had caught the attention of Calvert. And the scouting team at JSW Sports was made aware of the talent that the Australian coach saw in the young javelin star.

Neeraj Chopra did not win the meet. He did not even finish on the podium. He finished 5th.

“2015 was the first time I heard the name Neeraj Chopra. We had an Australian throw expert who had come on board as a consultant. His name was Gary Calvert. 2015, at the Haryana State Championship. Gary had gone there, especially, the throw and strength were the key criteria. We had identified Haryana as the state where we must go for scouting,” Parth Jindal, Founder and Director of JSW’s Inspire Institute of Sport, told India Today in the first of a 3-part documentary ‘The Road Less Taken, Neeraj Chopra’.

“I got a call from Manisha (Head of Sports Excellence, Scouting),” he added saying that she had informed him that Neeraj emerged as the ‘most promising’ thrower there.

“I said: ‘Really, did he win?’. I asked if he had won the Haryana State Championship and why they were keen on signing him. They said ‘no he didn’t win’. He came fifth, I think.

“I asked them ‘why aren’t you not signing the guy who came 1st or 2nd or 3rd? Why are you signing the guy who came 5th?’.”


Neeraj Chopra won the Asian Games gold medai earlier this year. Courtesy: Instagram

Manisha explained why Neeraj Chopra caught the attention of Garry Calvert, adding that it was the young thrower’s attitude that grabbed the attention.

“At 16, 17, it’s not about whether you win or lose. It’s about how you compete. What you look for is how they compete when you put them against people who are better than them. Or you put them in a big stage. Do they rise to the occasion or not rise to the occasion? You could tell he was not overawed by the occasion,” she said.

“I said ‘Great, we can sign him’. That’s how we signed him. That’s how the whole Neeraj saga began,” Parth Jindal added.

Neeraj would go on to win the U20 World Championships a year later with a junior world record of 86.48m. The throw gave him the much-needed belief that he could go on to dominate the highest level. At 19, Neeraj’s throw would have earned him a medal at the Rio Olympics, but the Haryana athlete missed making the cut for the Olympic Games in 2016 as he achieved the qualifying standard a week after the deadline.

Neeraj and Calvert went on to share a wonderful rapport with the Australian throwing coach, helping the Indian javelin star identify and improve the minute details of his game. With a year of working with the coach, Neeraj was consistently hitting 85m and above.

“There were many times when I finished without a medal. I wouldn’t even finish in the best 8. I would have even qualified for the final. Not many know it. But even in those tournaments, I used to get satisfaction if I gave my best and if it made me happy,” Neeraj said with a smile on his face in the documentary as he watched Parth and Manisha talk about the origin story.

Published By:

sabyasachi chowdhury

Published On:

Dec 9, 2023


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