Neeraj Chopra: Want to thank coaches Klaus, Uwe Hohn for guiding me to gold in Tokyo

Indian Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra, who bagged the top prize in the men's javelin event on Saturday, recounts his road to glory at the Tokyo Games.

Neeraj Chopra of India reacts after completing a throw in the Men's Javelin Final at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.   -  Getty Images

Indian javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra on Saturday became the country's second-ever individual gold medallist at the Olympics after coming up with an attempt of 87.58m at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Neeraj is also the first Olympic Athletics medallist for independent India. The 23-year-old opened up on his mindset during the men's javelin final, tribute to Milkha Singh, various coaches and more during an interview.

During the final, what was going through your mind? When did you start feeling that you could actually win a medal?

When the final was on, there was only one thing in my mind that I have to improve further from the previous throws. The body was completely fine and I felt that I might do my personal best. But ours is a technical event and a slight problem anywhere can affect the distance of the throw. Nevertheless, even if I could not break the national record or do my personal best, winning an Olympic gold is very special. When everyone else failed to do enough in their final throws, I knew I had won the gold but I had to stay focused because if you get happy that you have won gold, you can’t put the required effort further.

READ | How Neeraj Chopra made Tokyo gold happen before it happened

How does it feel to be India’s first-ever Track & Field medalist? How important do you think this gold medal will be for Indian athletics?

I’m feeling extremely happy, having won the first medal in track and field and that too gold. So, it has been a fabulous start and I can’t express it but it was a proud moment when the national anthem was being played and I was standing there with the gold medal. I feel the future will be even better for Indian Athletics.

You missed out on 2019 due to injury and then the pandemic hit. How does it feel now to look back at those years and the efforts you made then?

It feels as if this gold has made up for 2019 and 2020 which were affected by injury and COVID. It feels as if I've achieved the ultimate dream of any athlete of winning an Olympic medal. Therefore, I feel whatever happened in between was fine. If I have won gold after coming out of those times, then they were right for me.

What is the next goal now for Neeraj Chopra - the athlete?

For now, I’ll try to celebrate this gold medal victory, go home and after that, if the training goes well, I’ll participate in competitions this year. Otherwise, I’ll focus on Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Championship next year.

You've been training with Klaus for two years. How much of a role has he played in your journey to the top of the Olympic podium? In what ways was he different from Uwe Hohn?

I have been training under coach Klaus since 2019 and his has been a significant contribution to this medal because his training plans and techniques really suit me well. I was with coach Uwe in 2018 and with him, I mainly improved my strength but also, I felt that the technique that he told me was a bit different and I talked to him about that. Then, when I started with coach Klaus, his technique and teaching methods suited me really well. Every coach has his own methods. Every coach teaches something new and different. So, I would like to thank Uwe sir and Klaus sir for putting their heart into training me, which has resulted in the Olympic gold.

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What did your coach Klaus tell you before the final? Did you speak to anyone before?

Coach Klaus had told me to try to give my best in the first throw itself just like I had done in the qualification round. I had talked a little to my uncle and my senior Jaiveer. Didn't speak much with anybody else. I think somewhere even they believed that something good will happen, to put my heart into my game and something good will happen. Then I won gold and they all were very happy.

You dedicated your medal to Milkha Singh ji. What was your thought behind that?

I have watched a lot of videos of Milkha Singh Ji and what he had said, that what they had missed by a small gap and time, he wished somebody from India could go and win a medal and if the national anthem is played, then nothing like it. Therefore, when I won gold and the national anthem was played, I thought this was his big wish and he is not with us anymore but I felt his wish had been fulfilled. Wherever he is, his dream and that of other athletes like PT Usha ma'am, who had to settle for fourth as well, I hope they're really happy now.

Who all would you like to remember as playing a role behind the scenes in your journey from Khandra to Tokyo?

TOPS, SAI and Athletics Federation of India have contributed to my success. And my sponsor -- JSW Sports -- has supported me since 2015. Whenever I need anything, they all are always there by my side. Indian army too supports me and due to everyone’s support, I am here today.

Your mother says she is waiting at home with Choorma! What's your plan when you return to India?

I’ll go home and eat home-cooked food, whether it is Choorma or anything by my mother. I have done what I had come to do here and not only I'm waiting to reach India and eat home-cooked food, I want to celebrate with my people and then start my training again.

ALSO READ | Neeraj Chopra's Olympic gold gives Indian athletics new lease of life

What was your feeling like standing on top of the Olympic podium, listening to the national anthem and seeing the Indian flag being hoisted?

When you are standing at the centre of the podium with the gold medal around your neck while your flag is being raised and the national anthem is being played, the feeling you have makes you forget all the problems that you have faced. That feeling can’t be described, it can only be felt and what you feel in that moment is something really different.

You have been getting a lot of attention on social media. How do you see all this, now that you’re a social media star?

Yes, I have observed that followers have increased on social media, especially after the Olympic gold, because everyone had watched my event on the final day. It’s good because sometimes, when we share our exercise, throwing, competition results, everyone feels good and congratulate us, post nice comments which make us feel good. I accept that social media is sometimes necessary but most of the times, I try to focus more on my game because that is better and we do use social media sometimes in between.

People are saying that you should play yourself in your biopic! What do you think about that and who would you prefer to see playing you on screen?

I don’t know about the biopic but I feel that I should keep my complete focus on the game and after that, when I leave the game, I feel only then it is appropriate because I’ll try to produce even better results and win more medals which will give birth to new stories in my life and it’ll be much better. I feel that till the time my sports career is going on, it should wait. When the game stops and I take retirement, after that even if it comes it won’t affect me much.

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