Ahead of 2023 season, Neeraj Chopra looks to answer ‘90m question’ once and for all

Neeraj Chopra has a busy calendar for the next few months as he looks to defend gold at the Asian Games and the Diamond League final and upgrade his World Championships silver.

Published : Apr 16, 2023 15:51 IST , New Delhi - 10 MINS READ

FILE PHOTO: Neeraj Chopra gestures during the “Thank you Tokyo!” parade at the Tokyo Olympics One Year Anniversary Event on October 16, 2022. 
FILE PHOTO: Neeraj Chopra gestures during the “Thank you Tokyo!” parade at the Tokyo Olympics One Year Anniversary Event on October 16, 2022.  | Photo Credit: Getty Images

FILE PHOTO: Neeraj Chopra gestures during the “Thank you Tokyo!” parade at the Tokyo Olympics One Year Anniversary Event on October 16, 2022.  | Photo Credit: Getty Images

All eyes are on India’s top athlete Neeraj Chopra ahead of his first competition of the season at the Doha Diamond League next month. The Olympic javelin throw champion has had a busy calendar for the next few months, as he looks to defend gold at the Asian Games and the Diamond League final, and upgrade the silver he won at the World Championships last year. But Neeraj Chopra has other goals too.

On Sunday, he spoke about a range of issues - from avoiding injury to standings of Indian athletics in the global order and how he hopes to answer the ‘90m question once and for all’.

How is training going?

Training is going well. Right now, we are training in Gloria Sports Arena in Turkey. At the start of the year, we were in South Africa where we were primarily focusing on gaining strength. Now focusing on technique. This year we have a really long season with the Asian Games being held in October. So we have time to work on our technique and make things better by then. I hope I will be in good shape both in strength and technique by the time of the Doha Diamond League. Last year I had less time to prepare ahead of the season. This time I have trained for a long time. Doha is a good place to start my season.

Have you decided which events you will be competing in?

Right now, I will only be participating in Doha Diamond League. This year there are a lot of competitions, so I have to be selective. I have to sit with my coach (Klaus Bartonietz) and my physio (Ishan Marwaha), and together we will decide which competitions I will compete in. There are a few important competitions like the Diamond League final, the World Championships in August and the Asian Games in October that we will have to focus on. We will have to sort out how we will compete in the Diamond League and the Asiad so that we have time to recover.

What are your goals for the year?

My only focus is to try and do better from last year. I had some good results last year, and I hope to do better this time. But that depends on the kind of competitions I am taking part in as well. Jaise competition rehta hai woh usi time decide hoga. My priority is to stay free from injury. We are working to ensure that. Right now, things are looking good. When we started the year, my coach Klaus gave me some targets in terms of strength and technique. We got good results on those targets so far.

Right now, I’m slowly getting into that competition mindset. It’s been so long since I last competed (Neeraj last took part in the Diamond League finals in Zurich last September), so that competitive mindset has fizzled out. Now, because there are only a few days left for the Doha event, I will go back to that mindset. But because it’s my first competition after a long time, it’s going to take some time to return.

How do you hope to avoid injury?

I have (phsyio) Ishaan bhai. He does training and rehab really well. The focus is to train in such a way that I can avoid injury as much as possible. But since it is sports, that isn’t always possible. At the Worlds, I picked up a groin injury without even realising it since I overstretched while making a throw. It was just for a second when I was a little lose and something happened. Preventing random injuries is not in our hands. But we want to finish this season successfully.

There’s one lesson from last year. At the Worlds, when I got the injury in the 4th throw, maybe I could have stopped myself because I felt a lot of pain. I spoke to the coach and Ishan that maybe I shouldn’t take the 5th and 6th throws. But I put tape around my leg and came out and threw. I just couldn’t control myself. I think I should have stopped then. But you always felt that maybe you will get a really good throw. When you see your country’s flag and the chance to take first place, you can’t stop yourself but I’ll be more careful this time.

You have already won medals at every major competition. So what are you looking forward to in 2023?

I don’t feel that every competition is the same. Every event I compete in feels new. That’s because I really enjoy competing. It’s true that I already have won medals at big events like the Olympics, Worlds, Commonwealth and Asian Games, but I only have a silver from the last World Championships. Having won a silver, I’d like to win a gold medal. But there is no pressure that I have to make it gold now. At every competition, I take part in I just want to do my best. And as long as I compete, I want to get better.

Any plans on crossing the 90m barrier this year?

I always get this question of whether I will cross the 90m mark. It isn’t that it irritates me, and it’s not like I’ve been getting this since just the Olympics. People have been asking me this since 2018 when I won the Commonwealth And Asian Games gold medals. I don’t mind it because people feel think I can do it.

Last year also, I came very close. (Chopra made a new national record of 89.94m at the Stockholm Diamond League). When you think about how I missed the 90m mark, it was just 6cm.

Unfortunately, after that, I picked up an injury. I was very well prepared last year as well. My preparation is good this year as well. I don’t want to sound overconfident or anything but things are going smoothly. There’s no pressure of crossing 90m or anything, but this year I think I will get it. This year we will end the 90m wala sawaal (question).

But one other thing is that there have been times when the world’s best javelin throwers have been competing together, and the gold medal goes at 85-86m only. Even more important than getting a 90m throw is handling the pressure of competitions and performing consistently in all conditions. I will try and maintain my consistency.

Of course, 90m is still a magical distance. I won’t say it’s not important at all. The 90m club is a famous one in the javelin. A lot of throwers have done it. Hopefully, I will do it as well.

You have a lot of strong competitors coming up this season. How challenging will that be?

It’s a good feeling. Competing alongside tough opponents in a world-class event gives me motivation and helps me push myself. When you know who you are competing with, there’s no room for complacency. You know you have to be at your best. When you are alongside them, you know you have to throw a certain distance. I really have a lot of fun competing with these guys. There is a friendship between us because we are all javelin throwers. But there is also motivation because I can compete in these competitions along with these athletes. Soch ke bohot maza ata hai. Mehnat rang le ke ayi hai. (It gives me a lot of satisfaction when I think about it because I feel all my hard work has paid off)

How difficult is it to motivate yourself, especially since yours is an individual sport and you train by yourself?

It is true that javelin throw is an individual sport. But I also have a coach, and physio who support me a lot. But the moment you have chosen an individual sport, you need to be able to handle it as well. That is a motivation as well. When I was young I would be around guys who would tell me I had to go to train. Right now, I have to find ways to motivate myself. I have to go on the ground and motivate myself. Self-motivation is very important. That’s true not just in individual sports. Even if you are competing in a team event, you still need to be very self-motivated.

Were you able to get any personal time or is your focus just on your sport?

My personal time is for training only. I enjoy that. I don’t feel that I can’t go to weddings or functions. I enjoy this (training) only. If I don’t train I feel as if I’m missing something. Even when I am at home I feel something is missing and I should be training. It’s true that it is also important to relax the mind. I do go and meet my family, and on rest days I go out to nice places but when It comes to personal time, that is about training.

We are also at the start of the Olympic qualification period, how much motivation comes from the fact that you are the reigning Olympic champion?

Gold is a good motivation. Winning a gold medal in Tokyo was a good experience to have. This time there are more expectations. Hopefully, I’ve learned how to maintain myself. I know how to focus and perform when it matters. The last Olympics continues to motivate me. I hope to live up to expectations and handle pressure in Paris, The way I handled pressure in Tokyo.

I also know that there will be more expectations from me at the next Olympics than were there in Tokyo. The only thing I can do is go in with even more hard work. I can only try to do that. What happens on the day of the competition is not in my control but the time before that is in my hands. So I will prepare even harder and go there with my best preparation.

Where do you feel Indian athletics is right now?

Athletics ka jo ban raha hai. Woh dekh ke accha lagta hai. (It’s good to see what is happening in athletics). Yesterday we saw how in the Indian Grand Prix (in Bangalore) a lot of Indians did well. Tejinder Toor threw 21m plus in the shot put. Shail jumped really well. (Long jump national record holder) Jeswin Aldrin has done well. Jeswin is the world leader right now in the men’s long jump.

In javelin throw, we have about 6-7 throwers who are throwing above 80m now. There’s going to come a time when someone throws 80m in a national competition and he doesn’t get a medal. It’s true that other countries have a few guys who do 85 and 90m, but we have a lot of young guys who are throwing at a high level also.

In Doha (Commonwealth Games triple jump champion), Eldhose Paul will also be competing. Athletics is growing in the country. People are recognising that Indian athletes are coming up. Our athletes’ mindset and performance are world-class right now. That mindset and body language se pata lagta hai. (You can see it in their mindset and body language). I was in India for a programme recently, and I met a lot of athletes - - (Triple Jumper) Praveen (Chitravel) and Jeswin. They have that hunger to do well. It’s not just javelin, a lot of athletes will come out of India from track and field. The biggest advantage is the athletes who are doing well are very young. They are 20-21 and already world-class. They will win events in the Diamond League. The coming few years are going to be great.

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