He was the most eagerly awaited Indian at the Athletes’ Village even before the Asian Games commenced. Tracked and clicked at every step during his journey till Hangzhou, Neeraj Chopra is probably the one person everyone has on their wishlist here. The floppy-haired youngster who set a new national record at the 2018 edition five years ago has graduated to a global superstar.
From then to now, the world of Indian sports has changed with Chopra now its lodestar. The man himself, though, remains as grounded as he was in his first Asian Games. “In 2018, it was just the start of a journey. I had participated in the Commonwealth Games before that. It was very good. I got a new national record of 88.06m. But yes, things have changed a lot since then. My dreams of playing in the Olympics and winning a medal there and at the World Championships have been fulfilled, so it feels nice. But this is the first time I will be trying to defend my title in a major tournament,” he said during an interaction with Indian media here.
Having missed a large part of the year due to a persistent groin strain that also led to doubts about his Asian Games participation, Chopra insisted it was all about managing the body and mind and focussing on performance, not injuries. “The main focus and challenge this year was to stay fit till the Asian Games. The target was to do well in the World Championships and when that happened, the dream of a gold there was fulfilled. It was not easy because I missed a few events due to the strain at the start of the season itself.
“But we pushed a lot for the Worlds -- met doctors, physio Ishan (Marwaha) worked very hard to get me ready, trained in Switzerland and returned after completing rehab – and it felt good there. I thought it would get better in the next event also but I played in Zurich (Diamond League) and then the DL finals with very few gaps. They were not great outings but we learnt some things. It was the first time I played without my javelins because of travel logistics. I used some from the venue only and they were not that good and were hard and unused so everyone was struggling. The good thing is there’s time till the Olympics to rest and recover,” Chopra explained.
And success in sports, like everything is as much about the mind as the body. “In sport, it doesn’t always happen the way you think but you have to be prepared for every situation, and keep yourself ready for big tournaments. I read some reports that Neeraj shouldn’t be at the Asian Games and focus on Paris but I think running away from situations is no solution. Challenges have to be accepted, every athlete always has some little niggle all the time. It is important to keep it away from your mind and focus on the target.”
As the person every youngster here wants to talk to, Chopra’s message was simple. “I will tell them about my first outing in 2018. I will say I enjoyed that moment because till then it was a dream to simply participate in the Asian Games. There should not be any pressure on you when you are starting. That passion and enjoyment must be retained. Yesterday, we got the shot put medal, I only said ‘Don’t take any pressure, give 100 percent and play freely because you have nothing to lose at this point. Keep belief in yourself and learn from competitions like these, not just from winning but also losing, it will help a lot in future,” he said simply.
With the inevitable India-Pakistan question cropping up, yet again, Chopra had a message for everyone. “In athletics, we don’t compete against a nation. It’s a global sport and players from all over the world are your competitors. On the field, we all keep pushing each other and meet nicely off it all the time. And at events like these, everyone stays together in the Village, trains, eats and moves together. That is the only message sports has to give,” he declared.
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