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‘A German village celebrated Neeraj Chopra’s Olympic gold’: Why?

While India’s first track and field Olympic gold medallist, Neeraj Chopra, was getting mobbed at the airport, attending VVIP felicitation functions, and receiving a billion thanks, his two German coaches followed the frenzy on their smartphones and social media platforms. Chopra’s 73-year-old biomechanical expert Klaus Bartonietz recently returned from an extended stay in India to reach little or to reach Oberschlettenbach, a village in south west Germany. During his stay Bartonietz found videos and newspaper articles showing a security perimeter around the Olympic medalist.

‘What is happening with Neeraj in India? It is crazy. I know it is a historic medal for India. I got some pictures and I saw the army (paramilitary) was called to protect him,’ Bartonietz told The Indian Express from Oberschlettenbach. India’s javelin coach, Uwe Hohn, was also in Rheinsberg catching up with friends and family and keeping an eye on the country. Having never won an Olympic gold medal before, Honon is slowly realizing the importance of the gold medal to his country. In a town with fewer than 8,000 residents, he called his mother and sister to discuss Tokyo, India and gold.

The Indian Olympic team’s emotional reception to its newest star has been shared on social media by Honon. ‘Yes, sure, Facebook is full of it,’ Hohn says from Rheinsberg. ‘Now is a good time to celebrate Neeraj and his success. Neeraj deserves all of these honours. It is my hope that it will influence all athletes in India, not just javelin throwers. Upon my arrival in India, I knew there was no coach for the world’s best talent. In India, I got Klaus. Klaus did an excellent job. ‘In recent months the technique improved to the level we like to see” said the man who handheld Chopra when he became a high 18 javelin throw. Hohn had coached Chopra for the Asian games and Commonwealth games’.

Bartonietz, a coach since the late 1970s, and Hohn, the only East German thrower to throw over 100 meters, are taking a break after a job well done. In Oberschlettenbach, a place renowned for its hiking trails in a forest that was once a hunting ground for royals, Bartonietz has become a local celebrity. His phone has been ringing with congratulatory calls. On television, neighbors watched the final of the men’s javelin throw at the Tokyo Olympics and were eager to see how an Indian with film-star looks remained cool and focused. India’s most famous throw at 87.58 m has become a hot topic in Oberschlettenbach.

Calls flooded in
‘Earlier there were no phone calls. Some of my neighbors watched him and they were impressed with how he turned (towards the coaching staff) and raised his hand (after the second throw) and was so confident that the javelin will go long,’ Bartonietz says. Having helped Chopra fine-tune his technique Johannes Vetter is renowned as one of the nation’s greatest javelin throwers. ‘They are not sports people asking about Neeraj. I know coaches and athletes who have called. They saw us on TV, it is funny how things change’. ‘For a while, Bartonietz has been part of the German athletics ecosystem. Vetter’s coach at Tokyo 2020 was Boris Obergfoll, one of his former students. The funny thing is that his coach was my former athlete. They did very well (till the Olympics),’ he says.

Also, the coach compares the cash awards given to the Olympic medalists in India and Germany. ‘A friend of mine told me yesterday that a gold medal winner in Germany would receive 20,000 euros (about Rs 17 lakhs). Neeraj has received very valuable support from the government and sponsors. Also, it’s not just me. He was coached by Gary Calvert when he broke the junior world record, and by Uwe (Hohn) when he won the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. There are also people we don’t know. He was asked to throw the ball by the first teacher he had at school or his first coach. He or she must be feeling very proud right now’.

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Bartonietz is scheduled to return to India by end of September. ‘It will soon be time to look forward to an exciting 2022 with world championships, Commonwealth games and Asian games. This is the one that will take Chopra beyond the Olympic gold’, commented Bartonietz.


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