Neeraj Chopra: Not worried about others throwing 90m, I’ve beaten them at the Olympics and Worlds

Neeraj Chopra said he was hoping to get that 90m milestone before the Paris Olympics but said he wouldn’t be surprised if he was beaten to the mark by Kishore Jena.

Published : Apr 11, 2024 14:16 IST , New Delhi - 11 MINS READ

Neeraj Chopra will only kick off his Olympic javelin title defence season at the Doha Diamond League next month.
Neeraj Chopra will only kick off his Olympic javelin title defence season at the Doha Diamond League next month. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Neeraj Chopra will only kick off his Olympic javelin title defence season at the Doha Diamond League next month. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Neeraj Chopra will only kick off his Olympic javelin title defence season at the Doha Diamond League next month, but he’s already dealing with the question that’s followed him for nearly half a decade-- when he hopes to get his 90m throw. At an online press conference, Chopra said he was hoping to get that milestone before the Paris Olympics but said he wouldn’t be surprised if he was beaten to the mark by Kishore Jena. And while others might have got to the mark before him, Chopra said he wasn’t too worried since the only thing that mattered was who performed best on that day in Paris.

Are you looking to breach the 90 mark at the Olympics?

If I have to cross that mark, I hope I cross it before the Olympics itself!

What is the difference in your mentality going into Tokyo and now when you are going into Paris?

After Tokyo, I got a lot of self-belief. I competed in two World Championships after that and won a silver and a gold. I’ve also won the Diamond League and made some strong throws there. I also defended my gold at the Asian games again. This has given me confidence that I can perform at any stage and in front of any competition. So it isn’t that Tokyo was a one-off performance. I’ve performed after the Olympics as well.

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At the same time, my mind knows that this is my second Olympics and that I won a gold the last time. So I’m focussing hard and working to deal with whatever physical limitations I had before the last Olympics. I’ve also had a couple of injuries in the last two years and have been able to recover from that. Right now things are going well, and the best part is that everyone around me is positive.

The off-season in athletics is longer compared to other sports. How do you deal with the wait?

The off-season isn’t long for all athletic events since many have an indoor season starting in February. But the javelin throw is an outdoor event, so it takes a bit longer for us, and we can’t wait to get back to compete. Our season will start in May. The off-season has been good. It’s given me time to prepare my body and mind. The training has been hard but now I’m finally close to competing once again.

How do you think you changed after Tokyo?

There’s a saying that the tree which has more fruits bends more. The more medals you win, the more you have to remind yourself to have humility when you relate to people. Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of such things when you compete so much. If I meet kids, I need to behave well with them and give them time. In this matter, I feel happy that I’ve been able to maintain that sense of humility and not become arrogant. I’ve also become more experienced. Before Tokyo, I didn’t have a world medal or even a Diamond League position, that’s changed now. I’ve got medals at the World Championships, and have always finished well at the Diamond League. Before Tokyo, I was just happy to participate in some of these competitions and didn’t mind if I came fourth, fifth or sixth. But after the Olympic Games, I’ve not only won, but I’ve been able to keep my position. That’s felt good.

What are the competitions you want to take part in before the Olympics?

I will be competing at the Doha Diamond League and the Paavo Nurmi Games next month. I want to compete three or four times before the Olympics. I’m still discussing with the coach on which competitions I need to take part in. I’ll probably compete in any Diamond League or Continental Gold Series competition. These are high-level competitions, and hopefully, I will be competing against who I might face in the Olympic final.

What do you make of Max Dehning, who recently became the youngest to throw 90m?

I will compete with Max at the Paavo Nurmi games. I’ve never competed with him before. He went from throwing 79m straight into 90m. He skipped the 80m page completely. It will be fun to compete with him. When I competed at the Tokyo Olympics and also at last year’s world championships, many athletes had throws over 90m. So it’s not a new thing to compete against people who have thrown that distance. What matters is what you can throw on that day. I am excited to get a chance to compete against them. The more they throw in competition, the more fun it becomes. When we are competing together, the main factor that determines the winner is who handles the situation on that day better than the others.

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What do you make about Johannes Vetter, who is trying to make a comeback?

I spoke to Vetter when he was in South Africa with the German team. Last year, he had an injury, which is why he couldn’t throw so well, but it seems much better this year. It will be fun to compete with him. Last year, no one had a 90m throw. This time, Max has already crossed 90m. Although the season will only start in Doha, I expect the competition will be tough. Everyone will come prepared.

Some throw 90m but then have a 75m in their next competitions. You are consistently in the 88m range. What is the secret of your consistency?

If you are consistent in training, that helps you to be consistent with your performance. I don’t take breaks from training. I have to keep my training, recovery and diet balanced as well. I’m clear that I have to maintain my performance as much as possible. In some competitions, there is a lot of wind or rain, which makes it challenging. But even there, I want to at least throw what I know I am capable of. Perhaps the one area where I want to improve is to increase the level at which I am consistent.

You recently met Roger Federer. What did you talk about?

I met Roger Federer in January. He had good vibes. Although he was from a different sport, I wanted to ask him how he had such a long career and played at the top for so long. He said you had to balance what you wanted, and you also had to choose what competition was a priority for you. He said I would have to pick which competitions I took part in. Because if I didn’t train and just competed, I would have a higher chance of injury. That’s one of the reasons I want to play fewer tournaments but at a higher level. Apart from sports, I asked him if he liked Indian food, and he said it’s in his top five cuisines!

With the Olympics approaching, how do you avoid putting pressure on yourself?

It’s there in my mind that I should win the Olympics again. That’s the reason I’m working so hard. But to avoid taking pressure on it, I try to focus on the immediate competition I have before the Olympics. There’s time to go to the Olympics. If I can perform well before the Olympics, that will put less pressure on me at the Olympics. The goal is to defend my title, but I need to concentrate on all these competitions before the Olympics.

Are you looking forward to making big throws in Doha? It’s a venue that is famous for big throws.

A lot depends on which way the wind is blowing. We might be in a good rhythm, but if you are running into the wind, it’s going to be hard. Last year, I was running into a headwind in Doha. If we are throwing from the other side of the track, then I’d have a tailwind. Although that doesn’t help much with the javelin itself since it’s such a light object, it helps with the runup. While the direction of the wind could make things easier or more challenging, Doha is also one of the first competitions of the season. Everyone is a lot more fresh there. It’s one of the reasons why everyone throws well there.

When you go out to compete, do you think, ‘I need to put my best effort in the first one’ or do you build steadily depending on what the first throw feels like?

We get to make warm-up throws, so we can already get an assessment of what the track is like and what the conditions are. My mindset is to give my best from the start. Sometimes, the first doesn’t go well, but I’ll give my best on every throw. Sometimes, the first goes well, and sometimes, I’ve managed to give my best in the sixth throw. At the Worlds, I wasn’t able to give my best in the first throw or even the second. And the same thing happened at the Asian Games, where my first throw wasn’t recorded. If that doesn’t happen, then we have to give our best in the next throws. But we are freshest in the first throw, so usually my best throws come in the first few attempts.

We already had two on the podium at the Asian Games, but it would be even more satisfying if we had two at the Olympics, said Neeraj. 
We already had two on the podium at the Asian Games, but it would be even more satisfying if we had two at the Olympics, said Neeraj.  | Photo Credit: PTI

We already had two on the podium at the Asian Games, but it would be even more satisfying if we had two at the Olympics, said Neeraj.  | Photo Credit: PTI

In the last Olympics, you were the only Indian who was competitive at the World level. Now we have another in Kishore Jena. What does that mean?

It would be a dream come true if we had two Indians on the podium in Paris. Who knows, there might be more than two as well. We already had two on the podium at the Asian Games, but it would be even more satisfying if we had two at the Olympics. I think Jena will be working hard to make that happen. I think he will throw well there.

Last year, he progressed well from the Worlds to the Asian Games. He’s made a lot of improvement, while I’ve been stuck around 88m since 2018. Everyone keeps asking me about getting to 90m, but maybe Kishore will get to 90m before me!

I’ll be competing with Jena at the Doha Diamond League. This is the first time two Indians are competing in a single event at the Diamond League. In athletics, we should have as many Indians competing in the Diamond League.

This season, you are training with a strength and conditioning expert. Why did you add them?

Spencer Mackay and I first worked together in 2019, when I was recovering from my elbow injury. I’ve been working on my strength and conditioning for the past couple of months. I haven’t been doing a lot of javelin-specific training. I’ve improved my technique in the clean and the snatch.

How do you deal with the stress of training?

I’ve never got bored with training. That is the best part for me. I always have fun when I train. If there is a period where we are doing hard training, then there might be a day where we change things up or go a little easy. But for the most part, we stay as consistent as possible. If we need rest, then we travel to nearby places, shop, or go to cafes or restaurants near our training centre. There’s a beach just down the training centre in Gloria (Turkey) where I train so I might go there. But that’s rare. A lot of people think I live a very charmed life with a lot of fun, but it’s nothing like that. It’s a bit boring. I train in the morning, then go to my room and rest. Then I go and train once again in the evening and then go to sleep. It’s a very basic routine.

Whether it be in South Africa or Turkey, rarely, I’ve ever left the training centre. You can draw a line from the hostel, training hall and track, and that’s all I would have been to.

We rest on Sunday, but that’s when my physio Ishaan, gets to treat my body. That’s the only day where I have complete rest. We might go out on Saturday once every three weeks, but since this is an Olympic year, it’s even less than that.

Do you talk to the other Indian athletes?

The javelin-throwing community in India gets along well with each other. We don’t just talk before the competition, but otherwise, too. I talk to people I know from the camp and others too. We don’t talk that much about training, since everyone has a different plan. Everyone has their way of training. If they ask me, I share my experience but otherwise, we just talk about what’s going on in their life.

Have you made a lot of technical changes?

I’m not making any changes, but I’m making improvements. Furthermore, I’ve not started a lot of technical work right now. In the first few months of the off-season, I’ve mostly been working on fitness and injury prevention. If there is a muscle that’s prone to injury, then I’ve worked on it. I’ve only just started the javelin-specific training.

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