INTERNATIONAL NEWS - India's javelin star Neeraj Chopra said Wednesday that the lack of international competition because of coronavirus restrictions has badly hampered preparations for his first Olympic Games.
Chopra, a farmer's son from a village outside of Delhi, became a track and field star after winning the javelin gold at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2018.
Having qualified for the Tokyo Olympics last year, he recorded a personal best of 88.07m in the Indian Grand Prix in March.
But an elbow injury in 2019 and then the pandemic have robbed him of the chance to get closer to the world's best.
"I need to compete in international tournaments," the 23-year-old told a virtual press conference.
"If we cannot take part in competitions then what is the use of training. To rise to the Olympic level, you need international exposure."
Germany's Johannes Vetter leads the current javelin rankings with a personal best of 97.76m.
"I am close to breaching the 90-metre mark and can do it if I get competition," said Chopra.
"The present group of seven or eight javelin throwers across the globe is the best in history with everyone recording over 90m.
"It is my first Olympics, like many others, so your confidence must be high. And we will get this confidence through these events."
Chopra and the rest of India's best athletes missed a recent trip to Turkey for training and competition due to a 14-day quarantine.
Doubts have been expressed about the viability of the Tokyo Games because of a pandemic surge in Asia, but Chopra said athletes have to keep their focus.
"We have to stay positive to prepare for the Olympics amid this negative atmosphere where there is a raging pandemic and so many people are dying," said Chopra, who received a first dose of a vaccine two weeks ago.
"We just have to keep preparing as athletes despite the uncertainty surrounding the Olympics."
India has been hit by a devastating new coronavirus wave in recent weeks, recording over 250,000 deaths as hospitals battle shortages of medical oxygen and beds.
Chopra said he has shut out news broadcasts to focus on his Olympic preparation.
"I have stopped listening to any kind of news on the mobile or TV as everywhere there are stories of Covid positive cases and deaths," he said from his room at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala.
"It plays on the mind, as even while talking to family members the talk is about deaths of distant relatives. So we are trying to stay away from this and maintain our focus."