Ready for Olympic defence, Neeraj Chopra aware, not worried of competition

‘The biggest growth since Tokyo has been in experience, self-confidence and mental strength’

April 11, 2024 04:36 pm | Updated 05:47 pm IST - New Delhi

Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra. File

Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Neeraj Chopra will kick off his Olympic defence year at the Diamond League next month and the world champion is both aware of the pressure of expectations and confident in his own abilities. Ahead of the season opener in Doha, Chopra spoke to select media from his base in Turkey on April 11 about his training so far, the season ahead and the competition.


On working with strength and conditioning coach Spencer MacKay:

I had earlier worked with Spencer (S&C head coach at Inspire Institute of Sports) in 2019 after my elbow injury and surgery and it was very useful. We have been working together for the last 2-3 months, in South Africa earlier and now in Turkey also. The strength and fitness training is mainly before the actual season starts, when javelin-specific training is more in focus, which we have begun now. It has been good, we worked on certain exercises to increase strength.

On the 90m mark at Paris:

The training has been good so hopefully, it can happen before the Olympics also but for me, consistency is important. I always try to maintain my level in every tournament before trying to go beyond a certain mark. For consistent performance, consistent training is the key. You have to continue training through the season and not give up completely in off-season also, try not to take too much rest between competitions. Managing your travel, diet and training is very important. Sometimes conditions can be challenging but the goal is to maintain your performance.

In fact, I have been hanging between 88-90m since 2018 and the way Kishore (Jena) has improved, maybe he will cross that mark before me! But whoever does it, it will be good.

Growth as an athlete since Tokyo and the excitement of starting a new season:

The biggest growth is in experience, self-confidence and mental strength. Before Tokyo, I had no major medal and in Diamond League events, not even decent positions. That has changed – I have participated in two World Championships with a silver and a gold, good performances and title in Diamond League and defended Asian Games title. Earlier, it was all about getting a good performance in events; now, there is pressure to be consistent and maintain the position that I have earned. All these have helped motivate me a lot and given the belief that we can do well in tough competitions against top athletes. But I also know that this is my 2nd Olympics so I will have to prepare harder.

Of course there is excitement to get out there and compete. The indoor season actually starts early but throwing events like javelin, which have to be held outdoors only, start a bit late and there is the desire for the wait to get over.

On challenging conditions at different venues:

Honestly, heat doesn’t bother me as much as cold weather – it is tougher during competition because you have to constantly stay active to keep your body warm between throws. But whatever the conditions, you have to be prepared. I have competed in rain and strong winds because eventually, it is the same for every participant. You have to be mentally prepared for every condition, otherwise you have lost even before the competition starts. Doha is known for long throws but there is also a lot of wind. If it assists you, great. If it is against you, you struggle. Last year it was in your face. Let’s see how it goes this year.

On Johannes Vetter returning to form and the challenge from 19-year old Max Dehning (who threw 90m earlier this year):

It will be a good challenge but nothing new for me; I have been competing against all 90-plus throwers for the last few years. But I have always said that it all depends on what you manage on that day. Personally, I feel it’s good, more the merrier! We all push each other to do better but eventually, it comes down to who handles the pressure and manages the performance best in that moment. The German team was also training in South Africa and I met Vetter, Weber and others, he said it was going good. As for Max, he’s skipped the 80m page completely and gone from 79 to 90 so that is amazing and I am excited to meet and compete against him.

On the prize money announced by World Athletics and given by government:

From what I have heard it’s the first world federation to do so and for now, it is only for the gold medalists at Paris. But I think it is a good move and a start. World Athletics is getting very active and hopefully they will start it in other big events also like the World Championships, Diamond Leagues and Continental events.

As for what the government gives, let’s accept it, money is important. Someone might say it does not matter but it does, for everyone. Many of our athletes come from normal families and spend a lot on training early on, so it’s good to get some financial help. There is not much in athletics compared to some other sports but whenever you get something, it feels good as a reward for your hard work through the year. Eventually, everyone is working for the same things -- a comfortable life for self and families, financial stability, fulfilling basic desires.

Changes as a person since Tokyo:

I can’t say there has been much change except I have met a lot of people. I feel one should be like the tree laden with fruits that remains bowed low -- the more you win medals, the more you should be good to people you meet, specially the kids, spend time whenever possible. I am lucky I could stay grounded in these things and all of it didn’t go to my head. Because I know in such situations, a lot of times things are not in your control. I feel I am lucky I stayed on the right track, with the right people with me. That is most important.

On meeting Roger Federer:

It was a good meeting (in January) and got very positive vibes. Every sport is different but I did ask him about his longevity at the top. He said that maintaining a balance between competition, training and recovery was the most important thing, something I agree with and also try to do. He also said that Indian food was among his top-5 favourites!

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