Budapest, August 18
Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra has been trying it for a while now and the ace javelin thrower says he is “close” to breaching the coveted 90-metre mark and just needs “favourable conditions” to assist him in his quest.
Last year, the Tokyo Olympics gold medallist had fallen agonisingly short of the 90m mark, throwing the spear to a distance of 89.94m at the Diamond League meet in Stockholm.
“Definitely, I’m close. I just need one perfect day with favourable weather conditions and I am confident I’ll be able to achieve the throw,” Chopra said during an interview with Jio Cinema.
The Indian ace will be leading the country’s challenge in the World Championship here. He said he has got used to dealing with the huge expectations from him every time he takes to the field.
“I have somewhat become accustomed to handling pressure. However, when I participate in competitions that occur once every two to four years (like the World Championships and the Olympics), there is undoubtedly a sense of responsibility.
“But, I always give my hundred percent and perform with complete focus. Initially, there were other factors that used to overwhelm me but gradually I have gotten used to it.” On June 30, Chopra clinched the prestigious Diamond League title for the second consecutive time by throwing his spear to 87.66m but the 90m mark eluded the star.
Coming back from a one-month injury lay-off, Chopra’s title-winning performance at the Lausanne leg in challenging conditions was below his own top-10 efforts but he still stamped his authority in the prestigious one-day meet.
“Competing and being consistent at the highest level against the world’s best athletes is definitely challenging. At the beginning of the year, I had prepared quite well, but then I got injured which led me to skip a few competitions.
“After that, I returned and participated in the Lausanne Diamond League, where my performance was good. Since then, everything has gotten better, and I am happy with my performance and training.
“For me, the most important thing is to be mentally prepared for the challenge knowing that the World Championships is approaching, and I want to perform well there.
“I’m not carrying a specific throwing distance or medal target in my mind, but it’s important that when I compete there – I don’t want to have any fear of injury or anything else on my mind. I want to give it my best, and if that happens, I will come back better than before.”
When asked if he has any specific training method as far as the mental side of the game is concerned, Chopra said he likes to engage in a visualisation.
“Along with my regular training, I often also engage in visualization, which is quite enjoyable for me. It helps me feel like I’m already there competing and creates a mental picture – it has become a part of my routine.
“And to avoid pressure, I think the best way is to compete as much as possible with international athletes in events like the Diamond League and continental tours (gold, silver and bronze level).
“Due to this, when I go to the World Championships or Olympics, it doesn’t feel foreign and instead is quite normal.”
Last year, Chopra had an excellent season, winning silver at the World Championships in addition to the Diamond League title.
The Doha Diamond League meet last year saw two javelin throwers get past the 90m mark. Grenada’s two-time world champion Anderson Peters recorded the fifth-longest throw in history (93.07m) while Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Jakib Vadlejch had a personal best of 90.88m.
Chopra became the first Indian to win a track-and-field medal at the Olympics when he claimed the top prize in Tokyo two summers ago, his stupendous feat inspiring a generation of athletes.
“It (inspiring everyone) feels good. Especially, when I hear it from other athletes as well. I come from a small village, and I believe that if I can win it for my country, then anyone can.
“Anju Bobby George ma’am has won before, and many others have performed as well. And we can see that a lot of new talent is emerging in Indian athletics, giving world-class performances at the international level.
“I am confident that in the coming years, our performances in the Olympics and World Championships are only going to get better.”
As far as preparation for the Paris Olympics is concerned, he said planning for it will involve “discussions with the team to strategise and introduce new aspects to my game”.
“I believe in taking things step by step. The Olympics are still almost a year away, and currently, the focus is on the World Championships, followed by the Diamond League Final and then the Asian Games.
“After that, there’s a season break when I’ll have time and will undergo about five to six months of intensive training before getting back into competitions.
“Planning for it will involve discussions with the team to strategize and introduce new aspects to my game. All will be revealed soon.”
“The most important thing (next year) will be to keep myself physically fit, and mentally prepared, and to focus on addressing any technical issues or areas for improvement.”