With the World Athletics Championships just two days away, Neeraj Chopra is gradually getting into the competition zone. The Olympic champion has had a good beginning to his 2022 season and is inching closer to the elusive 90m mark. But the pressure of it is clearly more on those following him than the man himself, going by his interaction with select media ahead of the event.
“Like always, I am only thinking of going in with a free mind and aim to do my best, not bother with the distance. The competition I think will be very good and tough – Anderson Peters, Jakub Vadlejch, Julian Weber, Keshorn Walcott, Oliver Helander, me – all are doing consistently good and medallists have mostly been over 89m this season. I fell just six cm short (of 90m) at Stockholm. Being consistent is the target,” Chopra said on the eve of his departure from his training base in Chula Vista, USA.
Big lesson from maiden outing
That is also the one big lesson he carries from his maiden outing in 2017. “What I learnt from the 2017 World Championships in London (he did not participate in 2019) was that consistency even in the qualification round is important.
“It was my first major senior event and I did not have much knowledge or experience, I thought I will easily clear the 83m automatic qualification mark but missed. So aiming to peak in the final is of no use if you don’t reach there,” Chopra revealed.
His growth since then as an athlete has been phenomenal, even when he prefers to keep it simple. “There is not much change in training from Europe to the USA. The percentage of workout keeps changing, but we have not added anything new. It is always said that you should not make any drastic changes close to competition. Because any new routine will put extra load on a new set of muscles and risk injury. So sticking to what we always do,” he said of his training.
Not a leader
And as a person: “ Leader nahi ban na hai, sabke sath me chalne me maza hai (I don’t want to be a leader, it’s more fun if everyone moves ahead together). I feel blessed if other athletes have really started believing in themselves because of me” with extra emphasis on ‘really’, when asked about being seen as a leader by junior athletes after his Olympic gold.
The World Championships will be followed by the Commonwealth Games not even a fortnight later, but this won’t be his first brush with a hectic schedule. He finished fourth with a respectable 85.73m at the Zurich Diamond League just three days after winning gold at the Asian Games in 2018, but the pressure to perform then was not a fraction of what it is now. But the man himself is not worried.
“It is not difficult to concentrate on your performance if you focus only on the present. If I start thinking of something else during training, then it will be affect me, so I only focus on what I am doing at that moment. And in competition, you need to keep optimum energy and mindset till the very end, you never know when someone throws big,” he explained.
Easy going nature
Those who have seen him during his NIS, Patiala, days will vouch for his easy-going nature. But the star he is now is wary of the cameras, although he insists his viral videos of fan interactions are not planned.
“I also saw the video after the Stockholm DL but I didn’t know then. But I also think it depends a lot more on how others behave with you. If someone respects you and talks nicely then you also feel like being good, but if someone gets nasty or overbearing then you can definitely ignore.
“ Camera ka dar to lagta hai! Earlier we could live any way we like anywhere, dance with freedom, but now suddenly I see even some old videos going viral. So yes, it is at the back of your mind that you have to be a little careful in case someone is recording something.”
Hopefully for now, the only thing being recorded will be a medal and a new record at Eugene.