The javelin thrower is one of India’s best bets for a Olympic gold medal next year.
Under normal circumstances, the world would have been preparing for the Olympics which was supposed to be held in four months time in Tokyo, Japan. However situations are far from normal as the world fights together against the COVID-19 pandemic and remains under lockdown. Amidst this dire situation, Indian javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra shared some insight into his life and career.
Surprisingly, Neeraj Chopra never had the dream of becoming a javelin thrower in his childhood, let alone being a world champion at that event. His path to success was filled with thorns on the way but his exceptional performance at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships in Poland changed his life drastically.
His 86.48m throw in his second attempt saw India clinch the gold medal at the event, first at any world-level competition and he also broke the U-20 record with that throw. When quizzed about the difficulties and challenges leading up to the competition, Neeraj Chopra assured there wasn’t much of a pressure.
“We were training in Spala (in Poland) so we just drove down to Bydgoszcz (no visa problems). I took part in an event a few days before the competition and managed to hit 79m. I was carrying good momentum and a lot of positive energy. I was injury-free. My junior world ranking was no. 1, and all these things matter. During my final training sessions, I could feel that my body was in top shape and a big throw was on its way,” the athlete told The Indian Express.
Neeraj Chopra was training under his Australian coach, Gary Calvert, who unfortunately passed away in 2018 due to heart attack. Calvert made things easy for Neeraj and understood his difference with big European throwers and worked things in his advantage.
Even on days of the event, Neeraj Chopra would maintain his perfect schedule of enough sleep, meals on time and staying focused. “You have to take a lot of care of yourself in the run-up to a big event. And on the day of the event, you have to plan your meal timings. Everything is chalked out: the duration you have to sleep, you’re not allowed to oversleep too. My mind automatically gets into the zone ahead of a competition,” he explained.
On the day of qualifying, the 22-year-old notched up a 78.20m throw to progress to the finals but by his own account, he was not feeling it up to mark. However, on the days of the final, he recalled the determination to prove himself when he set his foot at the Zdzisław Krzyszkowiak Stadium.
“I was feeling good even during my warm-up. In the first attempt, I gave it everything but the result wasn’t up to the mark as I managed 79m. Then in the second throw, the moment the javelin left my arm, I knew this throw was different. I could hear the crowd go “wooh” as my spear went flying through the air and the moment it landed, the noise was something different. I could feel the force that went into the throw inside of me. I knew it was the best throw I have made in my life,” he recollected.
It was a moment of satisfaction for Neeraj Chopra, who finally achieved what he wanted with years of hard work and dedication. It is like an artist who strives to get better with every painting and finally delivers the masterpiece.
“I waited anxiously for the distance to pop up on the big screen. There it was, 86.48m. I couldn’t believe it for a while. I saw the fruits of years of training and sacrifice in front of me. That moment I realised I was meant for greater things and that one day I knew I could win a medal at the greatest sporting event, the Olympics,” he said.
The young athlete worked hard over the years from being an overweight kid to the blue-eyed boy of India who is considered the country’s best bet at gold in the Tokyo Olympics. However, after the record-breaking throw, Neeraj was surprised with the recognition and both him and his coach did not know what to do.
“At that time, I didn’t even have an Instagram or Twitter account. I was only on Facebook and my friends were sending me screenshots of famous people congratulating me on social media. It felt really good to receive such accolades but I was honestly not prepared for it at all. This sudden attention I was getting made me a little uncomfortable. I didn’t even know how to respond to the countless messages on my phone so I thought it would be best to just switch it off completely. (laughs),” he exclaimed.
Neeraj’s journey has only started and the 2018 CWG gold was the first gold for India in the javelin throw. While the fans celebrate their heroes who have represented their nation at the Olympics, Neeraj Chopra has given them a reason to widen their dreams.
“Everyone thinks about winning a medal all the time. But when I am competing, I aim to nail a near-perfect throw. Once I complete that, I take everything, even medals, as a bonus.”