India’s 22-year-old javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra needs no introduction as the Panipat-born started smashing and creating records since his teenage days. In 2016, an 18-year-old Neeraj Chopra struck gold in South Asian Games. Months later, Chopra won gold at IAAF World U20 Championships.
Neeraj Chopra with his throw of 86.48m had become the first Indian (senior or junior) to hold a javelin world record. In the process, he also broke the existing national senior record of 82.23m. That was not it as Neeraj Chopra on that day became the first Indian track and field athlete to have won a gold in a World Championships. The only things which haunted the javelin thrower was that this record could not earn him a ticket for the 2016 Rio Olympics as the qualification deadline was over.
The biggest moment for the Khel Ratna nominated athlete came in 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. He won a gold at the event to again became the first from the country to achieve the feat in his sport. In the same year, Neeraj Chopra went berserk all over again in the Asian Games, Jakarta. This time around Chopra registered a throw of 88.06m, a new national record.
2019 did not treat Neeraj Chopra well as he had to miss a series of events including the World Athletics Championships, which he was eagerly waiting for due to an elbow strain. Anyways, champions shine in the toughest of situations and Chopra being the champion of champions underwent surgery, trained hard and returned back to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in his very first event after the rehabilitation.ADVERTISEMENT
In an interview with indiatoday.in, Neeraj Chopra explains about his journey and what he has been doing during the nationwide coronavirus lockdown which is into its 5th phase. Chopra talked about the postponed Tokyo Olympics and said that it doesn’t affect him and though he was lacking ‘competition experience’, he was all set for the mega event. Neeraj Chopra also asserted that the love and expectation from fans are a source of motivation for him.
Excerpts from the interview
Q: Tell us about your life under the coronavirus lockdown. In fact, you were in Turkey when the pandemic gained momentum and you had to return to India before going into 14-day quarantine at NIS-Patiala. How sudden and difficult was it?
Neeraj: I was training in Turkey with Rohit Yadav and our coach Dr. Klaus Bartonietz. For us, the experience wasn’t very hard. We knew the situation was getting serious and then we were informed that the government would be stopping flights after March 18 so we didn’t have an option really. We were in constant touch with the Federation and when they suggested we return, we decided to come back since it would be a lot better to be in India than outside during such uncertain times.
Q: You had a stupendous run in 2018 by winning golds at CWG, Gold Coast and Asian Games in Jakarta but then an injury-marred your momentum in 2019. In 2020 you make a comeback and qualify for Tokyo Olympics in the very first event after injury. Just when you plan to replicate your performance of 2018, Tokyo Olympics gets cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. How exactly does an athlete take such things?
Neeraj: The past two years have been quite a ride. I did have a very good 2018 season, but missed out on the entire 2019 season because of the surgery I had to undergo on my elbow and the rehabilitation after that. Having said that, I had a successful rehabilitation at the Inspire Institute of Sport in Bellary first and then at NIS Patiala, and this helped me get back my strength, and I was able to qualify for the Olympics in my first competition back in South Africa this January. So while I was short of some competition experience, I think I would have been ready for the Olympics had they gone on as scheduled. However, with the postponement, I do feel I would be able to get more time to fine-tune some of my technical skills and am looking at it as a positive in terms of my preparations for the Olympics.
Q: Is the Olympics postponement a welcome break which will help you prepare more or is it something which hampers the medal-winning process big time?
Neeraj: I don’t think of that as such and I don’t think I would have been affected by it in any case. The decision by World Athletics has obviously been taken after considering a range of factors and they are the experts at that. I try to keep things as simple as possible: my job as a javelin thrower is to stay in good shape and do my best at each competition. From that perspective, the change the postponement doesn’t affect me. Yes, I’m happy that I was able to qualify on my first competition back, but I would have backed myself to cross the 85m mark, as long as I am in good physical shape and form.
Q: You are 22 and probably India’s brightest prospect for an Olympic medal. How do you feel about it?
Neeraj: The Olympics is by far the biggest stage of them all for any sportsperson, so I’m looking forward to it. Last time around, I was focusing on the Junior World Championships and missed qualifying by a few days, but doing well at the Olympics has been my target for the past many years now. For now, I’m hoping and praying that we can all get through this pandemic safely, but that target is still very much something I think about and the chance to represent India and do well at the Olympics is always in my mind.
I don’t take any sort of pressure from the talks. I feel honoured and privileged that people talk this way about me and my performances. It motivates me that people rate me so highly and want me to do well, which is a good feeling. Personally, I don’t think about milestones or medals, but like to take each competition as it comes and focus on doing my best and becoming better with each competition.
My sport is also such that on any given day, there are so many variables beyond my, including how my competitors perform. So the best thing I can do is focus on the factors under my control, which is my performance and the way I throw the javelin, so that’s what I focus on.
Q: One thing apart from indoor training which is keeping you busy and motivated in this lockdown?
Neeraj: I am doing my basic training during the quarantine apart from that I am spending my time speaking to my parents and friends. Usually, I don’t get to spend time with them. I listen to music and watch movies too.
With the ease in the lockdown restrictions, Neeraj Chopra has started his outdoor training at Sports Authority of India centre in Patiala. India’s brightest prospect for an Olympics medal in Tokyo, Neeraj Chopra has also been Nominated by Athletics Federation of India for Khel Ratna Award.
Source: India Today
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