The 19-year-old javelin thrower from Haryana, Neeraj Chopra, created history on Saturday by becoming the first Indian athlete to win gold at the World Championship in any age group.
Neeraj’s throw of 86.48 metres also got him the junior world record. Despite the success, the new star of Indian athletics is disappointed that he is not competing at the Rio Olympic Games.
Excerpts from an interview
Were you expecting this stunning performance in Poland?
As per the junior world ranking, I was at the top. Before leaving for the junior World Championship, I knew I was going to win gold. But I never expected the javelin would travel this much. It came as a surprise for me. The junior world record is the icing on the cake.
During the event, when did you realise that the day belonged to you?
In the qualification round, I threw a distance of 78m without much effort. I realised that my body and technique were working absolutely fine and that I was going to hit the jackpot in the final. In the final, my second throw was pretty good and I thought it would have touched 82-83m. But when it turned out to be 86.48m, I was overwhelmed… it was a surprise for me too.
For the last couple of months you were training to qualify for the Olympics. But you missed the Rio bus. Are you disappointed at not being able to make the Rio cut?
Olympics are every player’s dream. Despite winning gold in the junior World Championship, which in itself is not a small achievement, I am disappointed at missing the Olympics. Earlier I was trying to cross 83m — the qualification mark — but I couldn’t and when I did, the qualification deadline was over (July 18). Anyhow, I will try next time and I’m sure I’ll win a medal.
Since when have you been pursuing the sport and how did you get hooked on to it?
Like every other youngster in my village (Khandra in Panipat district, Haryana) I was doing sports for fitness. I didn’t have much idea about javelin. It was sometime around mid-2011 that I got into throw events because of my friend Monu, who is also a javelin thrower. After joining the national camp last year, a senior thrower, Rajinder Singh, guided me and it’s because of his motivation that I was able to better his national record. Australian coach Garry Calvert also has a major contribution in my progress.
The place you hail from doesn’t have many sports facilities, especially for throw events…
Initially it was tough. There is no bus connectivity from my village to the stadium in Panipat, and at that time I didn’t have a vehicle. It used to take me hours commuting. But, it is because of these hardships that I have been able to achieve this much. Frankly speaking, this is just the beginning. I have to achieve a lot.
Give us an insight into your family background.
I am from a humble farming family. Though making ends meet was not a problem, we still had limited resources. It was only in 2014 that I was able to buy my first javelin that too of mediocre quality. I bought two for R14,000 while the international-level javelin cost around R1 lakh. I was able to train with top-quality javelins when I joined the national camp.
What about your future plans?
I will discuss it with my coach and, most probably, I will train in Europe, preferably Finland, which is the hub of javelin throw. At the same time, I will also look for a job, as it will give me some sort of security.