Despite Neeraj Chopra’s gold, Covid-19 scare keeps top javelin coaches away

Athletics

Chopra is currently training in Turkey with coach Dr Klaus Bartonietz, a biomechanics expert. But AFI believes that a core group of youngsters with promise needs a foreign hand to guide them during the next Olympic cycle if India wants to become a javelin nation.

Shared News: May 7, 2022 8:15:52 am
AFI president Adille Sumariwalla

There is a Covid cloud over the availability of foreign coaches to groom India’s next generation of javelin throwers after Neeraj Chopra’s historic gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

Keen to build on Chopra’s success, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) was looking to hire coaches from Finland, the world’s javelin powerhouse. However, nine months down the line, the shortlisted coaches are still reluctant to travel to India where the official Covid count so far is 5.2 lakh deaths and 4.3 crore positive cases.

Chopra is currently training in Turkey with coach Dr Klaus Bartonietz, a biomechanics expert. But AFI believes that a core group of youngsters with promise needs a foreign hand to guide them during the next Olympic cycle if India wants to become a javelin nation.

“We are still looking for a second foreign coach in javelin to train our athletes. Now, coaches don’t want to travel to India because of the number of Covid cases here. They feel safer in their own homes with their families. So we will have to get our javelin throwers to spend more time training aboard,” AFI president Adille Sumariwalla said.

What has made matters complicated is that one of the coaches on the AFI radar is an “anti-vaxxer”.

The AFI is trying to rope in one of the two Finnish coaches: Teemu Wirkkala, a former European junior champion, and Kari Ihalainen, a former chief coach of Finland. The post-Tokyo Olympics plan was to get a second foreign coach by the first quarter of this year.

“We are still trying to get a coach from Finland to come to India. Maybe, he can come for a short time here and then travel back to a training base in Finland with our athletes,” Sumariwalla said.

AFI officials are talking to their counterparts in Finland to convince their coaches to make the trip. There are four male throwers and three women throwers at the national camp approved by the Sports Authority of India.

The World Health Organisation, in its report on excess deaths due to Covid released on Thursday, said 47.7 lakh people in India may have died either directly because of the pandemic or through its indirect impact in 2020 and 2021 — a figure nearly 10 times the official count for that period, and disputed strongly by the Government.

In January, the AFI was all set to rope in another Finnish coach Kimmo Kinnunen, the 1991 World Champion. However, he insisted on the Indian throwers making the Scandinavian country their training base. After multiple rounds of talks, Kinnunen agreed to travel to India but with a rider: his javelin-thrower son would come along.

“We said ‘is he going to coach his son here or is he going to coach our athletes?’ There were these issues,” Sumariwala said.

The unprecedented heat wave has also come up during calls between AFI and foreign coaches. “Heat will be an issue here. But the idea has always been to shift our athletes and coaches to cooler places. For example, last year when it was extremely hot in Patiala, we moved Neeraj and the coaches to Bhubaneswar,” the AFI president said.

Since Chopra won a gold at the World Junior Championships, the AFI has conducted an Open Javelin Throw competition to unearth talent. August 7, the day Chopra won gold at the Tokyo Games, has also been declared the National Javelin Day on which all affiliated state units will conduct a talent hunt competition.

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