Exclusive: Neeraj Chopra sees Asian Games gold medal as a stepping stone towards Olympic dream
When it comes to global achievements, there are few Indian athletes who can match javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra in the last three years. The 20-year old announced his arrival on the global stage by clinching gold at the 2016 IAAF World U-20 Championships with a junior world record effort of 86.48m.
That was just the beginning for the youngster as he continued to perform well in the international circuit and in 2018, he became the first Indian after the legendary Milkha Singh to win the Commonwealth and Asian Games gold medals in the same year. The throw of 88.06m in Jakarta was a personal best for Neeraj and that is one of the reasons why he hails the title as one of the biggest achievements of his career.
“All three medals are very important to me as the national anthem was played on the global stage because of my performances. But, the Asian Games medal was my greatest achievement as there was a lot of expectation on me and it was clear from the fact that I was made flag-bearer during the opening ceremony. So, I was really happy to win the medal there with a national record,” Neeraj told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview.
The most impressive thing about Neeraj Chopra’s career till now has been the improvement that he has shown over the years. In 2018, he broke the national record on two occasions and when asked about his medal-winning effort in Jakarta, he said that he knew instantly that the throw was going to be special.
“Once the javelin left my hands, I knew that it will be a good throw. I gave my all in that attempt and it turned out to be a personal best which handed me the medal.”
Neeraj, who was in New Delhi to attend an event organised by the sports drink company Gatorade, has not got any rest since winning the gold medal in Jakarta. Right after the Asian Games, he left for Zurich where he took part in the IAAF Diamond League and then, he travelled to Ostrava, Czech Republic for the IAAF Continental Cup.
Although he was unable to get medals in the two competitions, Neeraj said that the experience helped him and he does not lament the fact that he did not get much time to celebrate the success he achieved in the Asian Games.
“Asian Games was a huge event for me. But, I could not celebrate the win properly as I had to leave for the Diamond League. But, that is the life of an athlete. The focus is always on the upcoming competitions and once you are done with them, you can celebrate,” he said.
“It is important to take part in these competitions because other big champions also play in them and Olympics will see the same competitors and that makes a lot of difference,” he added.
The next major events for Neeraj are the 2018 World Championships and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The 88.06m throw at the Asian Games was a national record but in a time when most big titles are decided by throws of above 90m, there is still a long way to go for the athlete from Rohtak, Haryana.
Neeraj is well aware of that fact and he is already focusing on his future goals. When asked about what lies ahead for him, he made it clear that he is ecstatic with his achievements but his aim is to stay focused and to succeed in the future competitions.
“I have worked a lot to reach this stage. The win at the World Junior Championships was my first major achievement and it is a great feeling that I was able to win the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games medals in such a short time. But, my target is to stay focused and to improve my performance in the World Championships and the 2020 Olympics,” he signed off.