GUWAHATI, June 29 - Reigning Asian and Commonwealth Games champion Neeraj Chopra has certainly come up a long way since helping India bag its first-ever gold at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships in Poland. However, the Haryana lad doesn’t want to rate his chances for any event as he prefers to focus on achieving his personal best.
In an exclusive interview with The Assam Tribune, the 22-year-old javelin thrower who has recently been nominated for the country’s highest sporting honour – Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna speaks about a number of aspects regarding athletics in the country as well as the now postponed Tokyo Olympics.
Asked regarding the Tokyo Olympics for which he has already qualified, Neeraj opines that his main aim would be to do well for the country.
“The Olympics is by far the biggest stage of them all for any sportsperson, so I’m looking forward to it. Last time in 2016, I was focusing on the Junior World Championships and missed qualifying by a few days, but doing well at the Olympics has been my target.
“For now, I’m hoping and praying that we can all get through this pandemic safely. The chance to represent India and do well at the Olympics is always there in my mind. I don’t really think about my chances a lot, I like to focus on things which are under my control. So my focus is always to give out my best at the competition and achieve a personal best. If I’m able to do that at the Olympics, I would be happy.”
Neeraj qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with a throw of 87.86m at the Athletics Central North East Meeting League in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
Based abroad for training, he has emerged as one of the best medal prospects for the country in recent years.
“I’ve been training abroad for a few years now and usually, we do go abroad because the weather conditions are more conducive for training. So in the summers, it’s usually Europe and over the past two years, we have been training in South Africa in the winters since it is warmer there.
“I’ve become used to it now and the training experience is nice because I am able to stay away from distractions and can focus on improving myself. This past training stint in South Africa, where I was from November to January-end was special because I was returning to training after missing the 2019 season due to injury. The fact that I was able to also achieve the Olympic qualification in a competition there made it even more special.”
Regarding being nominated by the Athletics Federation of India for the Khel Ratna, the star javelin thrower said: “I feel honoured on being nominated for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna. I am happy and excited about it. This is the third time I have been nominated so it feels good that I have support from the federation and well-wishers. There are lots of top performers among the contenders, so I am keeping myself positive and will leave the decision to the panel.”
Having spent the entire lockdown period at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala, his main target still remains fitness even after the relaxation in lockdown.
“Initially, I was doing my basic fitness training and conditioning during the quarantine period, but more recently, it’s been good to be able to get back on the track and do some light training.
“Even during the lockdown, I was putting in individual training twice a day. Now, with us being allowed outside, I train for around 2-3 hours every day. We haven’t started intense training yet, but it is a good feeling to be able to train outdoors on the track. The focus for now is on general fitness and conditioning and I’m hoping to start with the javelin throwing training sessions soon.”
With the country failing to make its mark in the world of athletics and whether it has something to do with any of the technical or physical reasons, Neeraj replied in negative.
“Athletics is seen as the mother of all sports. Even at the world stage, there are athletes from many different countries. So I don’t think there’s any technical or physical reasons behind that. In general, throw events haven’t been very popular in India and due to that, the athletes who were doing well, were not being noticed. This has changed now and there is more acceptance for sports and with more media coverage, athletes are becoming household names.
“In javelin, we have at least half a dozen of world class throwers already and even at the junior levels, there is a steady flow of throwers which puts us among the top-3 in the world when it comes to javelin. All this will help inspire others to take up the sport and I’m sure in due course of time, India will be able to produce many more champions.”