Four years back Neeraj Chopra’s late Aussie coach Calvert had seen this coming: ‘He is Dennis Lillee of javelin throw in India’

Written by Andrew Amsan
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Updated: July 24, 2022 1:20:25 pm

Neeraj Chopra with former coach Gary Calvert (L) and after winning silver medal at World Athletics Championship. (FILE)

Long before Neeraj Chopra became a sporting superstar and forever changed the landscape of Indian athletics, a certain Australian coach had predicted great things for the Haryana thrower. Gary Calvert, who coached Neeraj Chopra to a historic U20 World Championship gold medal in 2016, had always believed that Neeraj was a rare talent that the country had never seen before. In a 2018 interaction with The Indian Express, just months before he passed away, he shed some light on Neeraj’s technique, style and demeanour and explained why he was a class apart. Long before he won the Olympic gold in 2021 and World Championship silver now, Calvert knew Neeraj had it in him.

The throw that won #NeerajChopra the silver medal at #WorldChampionship. It's incredible how these guys know the throw is good the moment they release the #javelin. That roar!
This man continues to write history. And he's just 24! pic.twitter.com/dhEj7vDD2G

— Mihir Vasavda (@mihirsv) July 24, 2022

Why do you rate Neeraj so highly and feel he’s different from any other Indian thrower?

He is not like any other javelin thrower India has ever had. I have now watched Indian throwers for 30-40 years. In the Commonwealth Games and some other events. I had a bunch of guys in India and I was trying to get them to watch Neeraj and see how they can improve their way of throwing. The way he uses his legs and keeps his shoulder way back. He is very supple in the shoulder. I have seen junior events in India. You get 30-40 boys and you will not see anyone throwing like Neeraj. He comes from an era now where that has not happened before. He is different. He has an incredible feel for delaying the arm and he has a great learning capacity which is just unheard of. I said this even well before he made his record throw.

READ |The fitness secrets behind Neeraj Chopra’s World Championship medal

Neeraj doesn’t appear bulky or muscular. How does he generate the power?

Most Indian throwers would spend a lot of time in the weight room trying to get stronger and end up becoming more clumsy. They are not as athletic as Neeraj. His activities were more of running, jumping and subtle stretches. He appears to have less muscle mass but he is far more elastic. The other boys go too far down the other way.

What a champion, what an athlete!#Oregon2022,JavelinThrow,88.13m

First ever silver medal in Athletics at the World Championships for #India

Second only to win a medal at the WCH for India after long jump legend Anju Bobby George (Bronze, Paris 2003,6.70m)@g_rajaraman pic.twitter.com/cHFP3KdnBv

— Athletics Federation of India (@afiindia) July 24, 2022

Is Neeraj’s style different from the other world-class throwers?

The Germans have a very simple method, they work on basic power positions. They have a very straightforward approach. They throw very clean and straight, which is straight down the ground. Rohler, Vetter and Hoffman go straight. So what Neeraj does is a rotational technique. He turns his shoulders like what we call a 1 ‘o’clock. His technique is nothing like the Germans but that does not mean we need to copy them. I think some of the best throwers in the world, including the World Record holder, used a similar rotational technique. The Germans are very powerful and very linear. I would not try to change Neeraj’s technique, I would rather try to enhance it.

READ |Garry Calvert, the gentle soul who shaped Neeraj Chopra’s career, passes away at 63

Did he always have the rotational technique?

Neeraj through his teens has been very studious. He had the concept of rotating even before I met him. I liked it because I have been working with athletes previously who rotate, so I brought my ideas in with what Neeraj was using.

Silver medalist Neeraj Chopra, of India, celebrates during the men’s javelin throw final at the World Athletics Championships. (AP)

What was the biggest flaw he had when he joined you?

His hair was too long (laughs). He would fall forward too much during throws. I was working on a technique where he stays back more with his arms and shoulders and works his legs through. That was one of the biggest things I had to work on because he already had a natural way of throwing but it did not mean it was the best way of executing the movement. I was trying to fix the little bits of that. The main area was his body positioning where he could use his legs more.

You follow and study cricket religiously. Are there similarities between pacers and javelin throwers?

If you think of it as cricket, how many fast bowlers has India ever produced that you would say, ‘ hey, he’s really fast.’ Maybe a couple, but even in cricket, India does not produce great fast bowlers like Imran Khan. There have been some really fast bowlers from Pakistan and even Sri Lanka but India has not produced the really quick ones the West Indies or Australia do. Neeraj is like that. He’s like Dennis Lillee from Australia for javelin throw in India.

Neeraj Chopra, of India, competes in the men’s javelin throw final at the World Athletics Championships. (AP)

If you think of the fastest bowlers in cricket. If you can go to the demon bowlers of Andy Roberts and Joel Garners and all these really, really quick bowlers. Holding is a good example. He was a 400m runner but he kept his way back. So in the javelin, if you can delay the arm and not use it…..There’s only a maximum distance you can throw with the arm but if you delay, you get this almighty delay in the end. Neeraj has got that whip. Some of the other throwers doing well in the last year or so don’t have the same feel that Neeraj has. With Neeraj throwing like that, the others are trying to follow him.

Why do you say he’s a quick learner?

This is one of his traits that makes him stand out. He’s got a great ability to listen, watch and observe and then copy and then reproduce. Not many athletes can do that straight away but Neeraj has this great learning ability.

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Will he hit the 90m mark soon?

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He is a young guy with a lot of talent. When Neeraj threw 86.28m, he threw it from at least two meters behind the line. The throw was really close to 88.48m. So even back when he was 18, he threw 88m but a little far from the line. He has been more consistent in the 85m range which is really important at the world level. He’s got 90m sitting there and there’s no doubt that. It wouldn’t surprise me to see 90 but what is more impressive is that he is hitting 85m plus consistently.

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