Even for an Olympic champion, Neeraj Chopra has pretty high expectations of himself. On Tuesday you might have thought Chopra, competing in his first competition since creating history in Tokyo ten months ago, might ease himself into the season at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku, Finland. Instead, the 24-year-old notched up a throw of 89.30m. That’s the sixth-best throw in the world this season and enough for a new national record.
Pretty good you might think.
“Okay” is a bit of an understatement. But while Chopra will surely work out the technical kinks, he was satisfied with the fact that he isn’t stagnating. His 89.30m throw was, a new personal best. And since at this point a personal best is the same as an Indian national record, also his fourth national record. “A personal best is great. It means I've bettered myself. That's the most important thing and the target is to keep improving on one's own performance. The best thing for an athlete is to keep improving and bettering oneself,” he says.
It’s the battle of self-improvement that Chopra’s focuses on fighting. Chopra’s undeniably the big dog on the field now but this doesn’t mean he’s putting extra pressure on himself.
“This was my first competition after becoming Olympic champion and it was a good competition. Every competition is different and the next one will be different from this one. There were some of the world's best javelin throwers here (Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott, World Champion Anderson Peters and Olympics silver medalist Jakub Vadlejch all competed in Turku). If I tell you (how I was doing) mentally, (then) I had no pressure of being the Olympic champion. I went about things how I regularly do,” he says.
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By that Chopra means to focus solely on himself. “I gave it my all. When I am competing, the focus is only on the work to be done and not think of anything else,” he says.
That’s easier said than done. It’s particularly hard when like Chopra, you’ve had a 10-month break from competition post the Olympics. “It was a great feeling to be back. 10 months is a long time to be away from competition,” he says. There was little of the rust that might have been expected. But that’s probably because Chopra kept it simple. “There wasn't much on my mind. I just wanted to keep everything we've been working on in training in my mind when I went out to compete. It went well,” he says.
With a focus on the basics, Chopra isn’t overthinking his pursuit of the ninety-meter throw, that he’s been edging towards over the last five years. On Tuesday, he came closer than he ever had before. While he missed out by barely 70 cm, this time, he’s not particularly concerned. “From 2018, I have had a feeling that a 90m-plus throw might happen for me. I just don't know when it will happen, which day the throw will go at the right angle. I am not placing any expectations on myself,” he says.
Watch Neeraj's 89.30m throw which helped him break his own national record
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That throw might come in Kuortane where he’s scheduled to compete in another three days’ time, or it might come later. But for now, Chopra’s just satisfied following the plan and building on the platform he’s already on. “It felt good to open the season this way and it encourages me to perform better going forward. The idea is to approach all upcoming tournaments with the same focus and technique and throw well,” he says.