Budapest: Ahead of the start of his World Athletics Championships campaign, Indian Olympic gold medalist javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra said he is close to touching the 90-metre mark and needs just “one perfect day” with favourable weather conditions to attain that mark.
The World Athletics Championships are currently ongoing in Budapest, started on August 19 and will conclude on August 27. Neeraj will be in action during the men’s javelin throw qualification on August 25 and on August 27 in the final if he qualifies for it. Last year, he ended the country’s long wait of 19 years for a medal at the championships with a silver in the men’s javelin event.
During an exclusive interview with Jio Cinema, on touching the 90-m mark, he said, “Definitely, I am close. I just need one perfect day with favourable weather conditions and I am confident I will be able to achieve the throw.”
On handling expectations and pressure from fans, Neeraj said that he is used to handling it.
“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 per cent and perform with complete focus. Initially, there were other factors that used to overwhelm me but gradually I have gotten used to it.”
Neeraj said that competing and staying consistent while competing against top stars worldwide is challenging, and he is not carrying a target on his mind about the championships.
“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 are approaching, and I want to perform well there. I am not carrying a specific throwing distance or medal target in my mind, but it is important that when I compete there – I do not 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,” he said.
On other top challengers for his discipline at the world championships, Neeraj said that such competitions are highly unpredictable and one should focus on themselves and give their best and nobody should be feared or underestimated too much.
“There will be quite a few throwers who have already crossed the 90m mark. Some are experienced senior athletes, while others have recently performed well. However, I won’t mention names because you never really can be sure. I remember during the 2019 World Championships, we were discussing amongst ourselves and chose three throwers who we thought would perform well and win medals, but they were not on that list,” he added.
The ace javelin thrower said he feels good to hear how he inspires other athletes and how his medals are a catalyst for more medals coming India’s way.
“Yes, it 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,” he said.
Regarding his biggest inspiration, Neeraj said he used to watch videos of world record holder Jan Zelezny while starting out.
“So, I believe that at one point, you must find motivation from within because you must wake up every day and work towards the target you have set. Self-motivation is crucial, especially in individual sports like ours, where everyone must perform on their own,” he added.
He also said that there is no specific mental training for him.
“Along with my regular training, I often also engage in visualization, which is quite enjoyable for me. It helps me feel like I am 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 does not feel foreign and instead is quite normal,” he said.
As far as preparations for the Olympics 2024 in Paris is concerned, he likes to take 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 will 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. But right now, my immediate focus is on the competitions happening this year,” he said.
He feels that there is potential for better performances in favourable weather conditions of Budapest but one should be prepared for the worst weather conditions.
“Absolutely, there’s potential for better performance. We can’t predict how the day will turn out. But, I believe that we should be prepared even for the worst conditions. Often, we assume that everything will align perfectly for us, but that’s not the reality. Weather is a force of nature, and while we can estimate how it might be, the actual situation will only be revealed on that day. We need to deliver our best regardless of the circumstances,” he said.
He said that for next year, he must stay fit, mentally ready and look out for improvements in technical area.
Talking about the 75th anniversary of the Athletics Federation of India, he said, “I would like to congratulate AFI on completing 75 years. We are receiving significant support not just from AFI but also from SAI (Sports Authority of India) overall as they have got us top schemes. AFI is keeping athletes’ needs in mind, allowing flexibility.”
“In the future, we might see good competitions being organised in India, allowing international athletes to compete here. In the times ahead, I believe that it is both the responsibility of athletes and the federation to provide a chance for the public who follow athletics online to witness foreign athletes competing in India. Together, we need to uplift athletics,” he concluded. (With Inputs ANI)