Paris Olympics: Neeraj Chopra happy to soak in the pressure of title-defence

Javelin ace shifts training base to Antalya in Turkey before competitions begin

Neeraj Chopra in action in Zurich last year. (photo: JSW Sports)
Neeraj Chopra in action in Zurich last year. (photo: JSW Sports)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

A little over three years back, Neeraj Chopra had entered Tokyo Olympics as a serious medal hope – being a former junior world champion and Asian Games gold medallist but nothing more. However, his world has undergone a sea change since then as in Paris few months from now, anything less than a gold from the reigning Olympic and world champion is not going to satisfy the legion of fans.

The pressure on the ace will be humongous, but India’s greatest ever athlete is ready to embrace it with a smile. ’’I am training hard and feeling good. I feel I am yet to perform to the best of my abilities. I also get a feeling that this is the best-prepared I have ever been but it will get better in the days to come. Competition will be tough as a young German has recently cleared 90m. I enjoy this competition,’’ he said.

The graph for the javelin ace’s preparation is on course as after beginning his preparation in South Africa’s Potchefstroom in early December, Chopra has now shifted base to the Gloria Sports Arena in Antalya, Turkey after his proposal was cleared by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports’ Mission Olympic Cell (MOC) in late February. Chopra is accompanied by his current coach and biomechanics expert Dr Klaus Bartonietz and physio Ishaan Marwaha. He is expected to return to competition at the Doha or Rabat leg of the 2024 Diamond League season in May.

From left: Boria Majumdar (moderator), Abhinav Bindra, Sourav Ganguly and Adille Sumariwalla on zoom call with Neeraj. (photo: Revsportz)
From left: Boria Majumdar (moderator), Abhinav Bindra, Sourav Ganguly and Adille Sumariwalla on zoom call with Neeraj. (photo: Revsportz)

Joining Abhinav Bindra, India’s only other individual Olympic gold medallist, Athletics Federation of India (AFI) president Adille Sumariwalla and former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly in a panel discussion at the Revsportz Trailblazers Conclave 2.0 on video link, Chopra said he was ready as ever to embrace the pressure of living up to expectations. ‘’More than pressure, I consider it as a kind of excitement that the whole country wants me to do well. I hope to give it my all this time and see how it goes,’’ remarked Chopra, whom the trappings of stardom, endorsements etc has not changed a wee bit.

Before Chopra’s heroic feat in Tokyo, India’s best athletics moments came in the shape of two fourth-place heartbreaks with ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh and the P.T. Usha. It was after a 100-year wait that an athletics gold arrived – ushering in a can-do attitude among their athletes. The biggest example was when three javelin throwers: Chopra, Kishore Jena and D.P. Manu finishing among the top six at the World Championship in Budapest last August while the men’s 4 x 400m relay quartet made a stunning impact by making the finals.

The Neeraj effect reflected again the Hangzhou Asian Games where athletics and shooting accounted for 50% of the 107 medals – raising the bar for the athletes in Paris, though it won’t be easy. Reflecting on the career graph of Neeraj, Sumariwalla said he was proud that the champion had come through a grassroots programme of AFI. ‘’An indication of how Indian athletics has come of age reflects in the fact that when I was in active athletics in the Eighties, our national record in javelin stood at 65 metres-plus mark. Now if you don’t know over 80m, you will not be able to finish in top six,’’ the former multiple national champion and Olympian said.

Looking ahead, Chopra has a wish list – he feels it’s time to explore the possibility of bringing one international athletics meet in India. ‘’A lot of changes have taken place here for the better – I have been to the Reliance Foundation in Mumbai, the High Performance Centre in Bhubaneshwar and our athletics support system is fine. An athletics event of our own will surely help develop awareness about athletics further,’’ he added.

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Published: 08 Mar 2024, 1:27 PM