Even by his own high standards, Neeraj Chopra’s stock has been at an all-time high ever since World Athletics named him the most written-about athlete in 2022, overtaking Usain Bolt and skyrocketed when track legend Michael Johnson recently shared his warm-up video with well-deserved praise.
The 25-year-old, though, is not losing any sleep over it, preferring to concentrate on his off-season training at Loughborough University.
“My only resolution is to keep getting better, improve my personal best like I did in 2022 and hopefully put to rest all the questions on breaching the 90m mark,” Chopra said in an interaction on Saturday.
Mentioning the 90m mark was his way of getting over it; it has been a bugbear for the Olympic champion for a long time, more so since Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem managed it at the Commonwealth Games last year, with everyone talking about it — except Neeraj himself.
He, however, did talk about the other two achievements.
“My former coach (late) Gary Calvert used to say that you are first an athlete and as such, you have to do everything perfectly — sprinting, lifting, throwing — and as a javelin thrower, speed during the run-up is very important. That video was from last year, before I went to Finland for competition. But, when such a legendary athlete praises you, it gives very good vibes. Maybe if I meet him somewhere and am in good shape, I might show him my sprinting skills in person!” he quipped.
Still the GOAT
As for overtaking Bolt, Neeraj is clear: The Jamaican is still the GOAT. “To talk about an athlete and about his performance is very different. I think I have the advantage of being from India where everyone is proud and happy if an Indian sportsperson succeeds. Everyone talks about it so they also have a big role to play and of course it feels good. But in terms of performance, Usain Bolt and his achievements are at a very different level, there is a lot more to do to even get close to him,” he asserted.
His new season is likely to start only around May to pick up pace for the World Championships and ensure he is in peak form till the Asian Games in late October but there will be no let up in training. There won’t be any major changes or bulking up either, regardless of how his competition shapes up.
“I will definitely be working on increasing strength but I won’t go all out to bulk up, because then it will affect my speed and flexibility, which are my strong points. What’s the point of strength if I cannot run on the track? Every thrower has a different body structure and the aim is to try and keep a balance between all aspects. You do know who is doing what because everything is on social media now but you cannot try to copy anyone.
“Right now we are working with heavy balls to add throwing power and strength to shoulder and elbows. We will increase our preparations gradually, working on endurance and fitness including rehab, long-distance running, gymnastics, etc before switching to javelin-specific training when we start working outdoors,” said the man who has made peace with expectations.
“Expectations mean people believe you can do something, which is good. But they don’t affect me.”