India’s javelin star Neeraj Chopra admits it’s been a tough year for him dealing with groin strain, but defending champion looks to go all out at final event of the season
Neeraj Chopra at the Athletes Village on Saturday. Pic/Ashwin Ferro
As an awe-inspiring Neeraj Chopra, 25, strolled into the media centre of the Athletes Village on Saturday morning, there was a hint of nervous excitement among the Indian media contingent waiting to meet him.
The situation resembled the scene at most international competitions Chopra has participated in since his gold medal-winning show (88.06m) at the 2018 Jakarta Asiad that kicked off his superstardom. His global competitors, Germany’s Julian Weber, 29, and Johannes Vetter, 30, Granada’s Andersen Peters, 25, Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch, 32, and Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem, 26, would have undergone similar emotions just like the Indian scribes as they tested Chopra with their skill and knowledge. And just like he successfully negotiated all competition on the field, first with a 2020 Tokyo Olympics gold medal (87.58m) and more recently, with a gold at the 2023 Budapest World Championships (88.17m), Chopra smoothly handled the negotiations off it.
World champ dream achieved
“My main target this year was the World Championships and it went well. I realised my dream of becoming a world champion. It’s been a tough year as I had been dealing with a groin strain and missed a few events. I pushed myself, met a few doctors and my physio Ishaan Marwaha also worked hard on me, but my performances at the Zurich Diamond League [threw 85.71m to finish second behind Vadlejch’s 85.86m] and Eugene Diamond League Final [threw 83.80m to finish second behind Vadlejch’s 84.24m] were not great. For the first time in my career, I did not travel with my javelins [to Eugene], thinking I’ll use whatever javelins they have because many a time carrying javelins on flights is a problem. But they had brand new javelins and were hard, unused ones. Even Jakub could only manage 84m at Eugene. But that was a learning too, and this is my last event of the season, so I’ll give my best,” said Chopra, who is enjoying his celebrity status here, posing with almost anyone and everyone who flags him down for a selfie.
Rest and recovery up next
Speaking of the challenge at hand, Chopra believes the Asiad is at an ideal time because he had enough time to then rest and recover for the all-important Paris Olympics next year. “The 2018 Asian Games was the start of my career and this is the first time I’m going into a major competition as a defending champion. Maintaining peak fitness till this Asiad was one of my goals and since there are no competitions after this, I can go all out here. Preparations for Paris will begin after a brief rest,” he added.
No Chopra discussion can end without a mention of the elusive 90m mark, which he fell short off by a mere six centimetres (89.94m) at the Stockholm Diamond League last year. And though biomechanics expert Dr Klaus Bartonietz, sitting beside him, admitted that the focus is on how to ensure he gets that 90m throw, Chopra preferred to leave it to the Almighty. “We always go into the competitions with numbers on our mind, but it all depends on the day and the weather conditions [which have suddenly turned wet and gloomy here]. At the start of the season, my preparation was good and I felt I’d achieve the mark at Doha [Diamond League in May, 88.67m], but it didn’t happen. There were headwinds from the opposite direction making my run-up difficult. I also had a good throw at the World Championships qualifications and felt like it would happen there, but it didn’t. I think God must be having some plan, so let’s see here,” he signed off.