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I have a strong desire to compete in a big international event in India: Neeraj Chopra at Idea Exchange | Idea Exchange News

Neeraj Chopra on why youngsters should opt for patience and process over shortcuts to fleeting success, his favourite fast bowler, why he likes anonymity when not competing and his need to speak up for fellow athletes. This Idea Exchange was moderated by Associate Editor Nihal Koshie

It was very good to spend Diwali with the family. Cousins studying in Dehradun had come down. We are never together. But this year we had meals together, spent hours chatting. It was free time spent with family after many years. Usually, the family sleeps by 8-9 pm. I would keep them awake till midnight. So they were a little hassled, but it was fun.

I’ve controlled a lot this time (eating sweets). Last time, I was eating everything and my weight had increased. Now, I can control a lot even if I’m not training. If I eat a bit more in one meal, I ensure I skip the next. I’m also training a little. Last time, I made the mistake of eating to my heart’s content three times a day.

Neeraj Chopra, Idea Exchange, Neeraj Chopra interview, Neeraj Chopra idea exchange, sport news, Indian express news, current affairs

Nihal Koshie: You were at the cricket World Cup final. How was the experience as a fan? Also, your thoughts on Australia as the big match-winners.

This was the first time I watched a match fully. When I was on the flight, India had lost three wickets already. Virat (Kohli) bhai and KL Rahul were batting when I reached. There are some technical things that I don’t understand. Batting in the daytime wasn’t very easy. In the evening, I think, batting became easy. But our guys tried. Sometimes, it’s just not our day. But, frankly, everyone had a great tournament. Maybe, somewhere mentally, the Australian team held an edge at the start. When they bowled, I found they had a strong mindset. In the end, they had completely flipped it over. They were confident about their game.

It (wrestlers’ protest) should not have reached this level. At the start, there should have been a solution so that the athletes could continue training. As it was an issue about athletes, I needed to say something

Nihal Koshie: There is a doping menace in junior athletics. Recently, at a Delhi state meet, athletes ran away on seeing testers. Either coaches push or they do it for jobs.

I can understand why jobs are important for athletes. I also come from a normal family. But if the attitude is that we should quickly get results, land a job, even if you have the capacity to do much better, you’ll be content with just the job. Those who run after jobs and use doping as a shortcut, even if they perform once, their career will be short. And there’s the threat of getting caught in the dope net. It’s very embarrassing because this news travels to international media and they publish it. So, on one hand, Indian sport is rising, but on the other, this is also in the news. We know we have the capacity and can do well without doping. Be sensible, give it time and don’t chase quick results. Maybe, kids don’t get financial support from their family and think they should get instant results. But I will urge families to stay patient. Many have capabilities, but doping stops them from doing well. Natural diet, training, technique and proper recovery — if they focus on these, it can lead to medals for India. Money will come automatically if you compete at a high level.

Festive offer

Andrew Amsan: There was a time when you were overweight and people called you ‘sarpanch’ to tease you. Today, how does it feel to be an inspiration for young children?

Recently, I posted a picture of me in kurta pyjama (on social media) but now nobody calls me a sarpanch. It feels good when I am representing the country and everyone is saying good things. I am more motivated and want to do even better. Now, I have the Paris Olympics in my sight. If because of me children are getting motivated, it is also motivation for me to do better.

I don’t think any country has as many 80-metre throwers as India now. It feels great because there was a time when people didn’t know what javelin was and now India is one of the best at the event

Andrew Amsan: In 2016, even before you graduated to the senior level, your coach at that time Garry Calvert had said he had never seen an Indian athlete as talented as you. How important was his faith in your ability?

Garry Calvert was my first official coach. When I started off, there was Jai Choudhary and we used to train together. I also trained with Kashinath (Naik) and for a short while with Rajinder bhaisaab, a senior thrower. Garry helped me fine-tune my basic techniques. He gave me a lot of support early in my career. But his training was very tough. He used to make me run and jump so much. There was a training session that had cardio and circuit training. It used to happen twice a week and it would be a surprise. Only when I went for training would I get to know that today was the day. Running used to be 5 kilometres and it was just a warm-up. When he used to say ‘today is circuit training’, everyone would run to the bathroom. But it was fun because when you finished the training session, there was satisfaction from training really hard. After training you developed kattarpanti, a word we use in Haryanvi. The attitude that you have to finish whatever is given to you. I learnt a lot from him and he placed his trust in me. Today if he had seen what I have achieved, it would have felt better.

Andrew Amsan: When women wrestlers were protesting, most active athletes didn’t support them but you were among the few athletes who voiced an opinion. How important is it for you to support other athletes?

When athletes win medals, everyone knows about it but when something like this happens, the athletes’ voices should be heard too. It should not have reached this level. At the start only, there should have been a solution, so that the athletes could continue training. I felt that as it was an issue about athletes, I needed to say something. I don’t know if voicing my opinion made a difference. In the future also, if it relates to sportspeople and I feel something needs to be said, I will try and speak up. In our sporting history, this should not have happened. But, hopefully, such things won’t happen in the future. Most athletes have done only training during their lives so they don’t know how to handle these things.

Tushar Bhaduri: We saw visuals of Australia’s World Cup-winning skipper Pat Cummins returning home and there was hardly anyone to greet him at the airport. In track and field also, countries which have a lot of medallists like USA, China, Great Britain, there is no major hype or celebration. Do you think in India we take victory and defeat too seriously and there are extreme reactions?

We have a huge population and we get good support. At the same time, criticism is also a lot. This is Australia’s sixth World Cup. I am not sure if people in Australia stay away from work to watch sports. In our country, the good thing is that our people are very happy to watch Indian athletes and they even stay away from work to watch. Lots of people come to the airport. Indians are very connected to each other and that feels good. But, of course, it (expectations) leads to pressure. For example, say the US has won 50 gold medals at the Olympics. In such a scenario, the focus is not on one particular athlete. Like at the Asian Games, India won so many medals that the pressure of performing was not on just one or two athletes. If Indian athletes start winning many more medals at the Olympics, the pressure of performing will reduce.

Tushar Bhaduri: A support system is very important for an athlete. When you started, how was the support system and what are the changes you have seen?

There have been changes in the support system and that is why performance has improved. When I started, my family supported me. When my name was included in the national camp, I got support from the government in terms of diet, javelin costs, and for training. Private sponsors have also helped, like JSW Sports, OGQ, GoSports, Reliance Foundation. TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme) has also made a big difference. It’s critical for an athlete to have a good support system. I’ve been very fortunate to have JSW Sports with me for over five years now. I have access to a team that looks after my training, medical needs, travel, media, commercial endorsements and engagements. This has allowed me to focus solely on my training.

Shivani Naik: How do you realise that a particular throw is 85m-plus the moment you release the javelin? You always seem to know if it’s a big throw or not.

I have been training for 12 years. If you train for something this long and are constantly thinking about it, you naturally

develop that understanding. Now the body knows if it is a good throw. Those early instinctive celebrations come automatically. The early celebrations don’t come if the throw isn’t good. Most throwers have that feel. In long jump, you will see (Murali) Sreeshankar or Jeswin (Aldrin) realise how their jump will go the moment they take off.

Shivani Naik: Do you think your first throw at the Asian Games, that wasn’t measured, was 90m-plus?

It was 88m-plus for sure, not 90m.

Shivani Naik: What do you remember from that final?

It was my second Asian Games and I won a gold again. I remember the first throw, but I could throw 88.88 metres in my last attempt. Since I won gold with a good throw in the last attempt, I don’t think much about the first attempt that wasn’t recorded. Now my focus is on Paris.

Shivani Naik: You watched the cricket World Cup final. Who is your favourite fast bowler?

I like Jasprit Bumrah, I find his action unique. But I feel he should lengthen his run-up to add more pace. As a javelin thrower, we often discuss how bowlers can increase their pace if they start their run-up from a little further back. I like Bumrah’s style.

Shivani Naik: Is it better to consider big finals as a very challenging occasion or is it better to stay very relaxed and not take any pressure?

There’s always pressure, but we can control it. In events like the 100 metres, where the race gets over in 10 seconds, you can’t do much. In javelin, you get six throws if you come in the best 8. I can control my performance. If a few throws go awry at the start, I can take some time to analyse and understand what might have gone wrong. There is time to correct. In cricket also, there is time. But there are times when the body doesn’t respond. For an individual sport like mine, I can tell you that you get chances. The Olympics come once every four years, a lot of effort goes into preparing for it. You have to sit and think how much you went through to reach here and how important that day is for you. Just soak in all those thoughts and then maybe you can give your best.

Vinayakk Mohanarangan: You have spoken a little about the Under-20 World record and gold. In hindsight, how big a turning point was that in your career?

At that time, it was extremely important for me. We were trying to qualify for the Rio Olympics but my throw wasn’t counted since it came just a few days after the qualifying cycle. It was a world record throw and was a good three-and-a-half metres better than the Rio qualifying mark. If you compare that throw with the Rio finals, it could have bagged us a bronze medal. But probably there was another plan and maybe I was destined for gold. I didn’t think much about missing the flight to Rio but I was pleased with my record-breaking attempt. It was a huge moment for my career and made me realise that I can do well at the international level.

Vinayakk Mohanarangan: You have competed in a lot of international events where fans from India have come to watch you. But after the Olympics, you haven’t competed in India. How important is it for India to host a big event?

I have a strong desire to compete in India. I really want India to host a big international event and the federation is also trying. Everyone is keen on seeing India host a big-ticket event. I hope it happens in the future and I am really looking forward to competing in India against international athletes in front of fans.

Amit Kamath: During the World Cup cricket final, they kept showing a lot of celebrities on the big screen but they didn’t show you. Were you happy that for the first time you weren’t the centre of attention while you were at a stadium? Or were you thinking they could have put me on the big screen a few times?

I want them to show me when I compete. When I participate in the Diamond League they don’t telecast it properly. Woh cheez hai asli (that’s the real deal). At that time, they only show highlights. I went to Ahmedabad just to watch the match and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would have obviously enjoyed it more had India won, but I had a good time in the stands. I never wanted the camera to pan towards me, that thought didn’t even cross my head.

Amit Kamath: How much do you value this anonymity or privacy when you aren’t competing?

I enjoy being out of the limelight but I don’t mind when people are talking about me. I don’t feel any pressure. When you are fit and the body is working well, everything falls in place. I am not on Twitter (now X) that much. I probably open my account once every four-five days and always see someone talking to me. Our sport is such that we aren’t competing for 12 months straight like cricket or tennis. We have a four-five month season and the rest of the time it’s recovery and training.

Nitin Sharma: With the emergence of throwers like Kishore Jena and others, how do you see the Indian javelin scene and the competition? Also, you will go to Paris as a defending champion. Will there be added pressure?

Yeah, it will surely be tough to defend an Olympic medal but I’m mentally and physically preparing myself.

I’m happy with the performances of Indian javelin throwers. Jena threw well at the Asian Games. DP Manu is throwing well. There are many throwers who can easily cross the 80-metre mark now. I don’t think any country has as many 80-metre throwers as India now.

It feels great because there was a time when people didn’t know what javelin was, and now India is one of the best at the event. It’s important to have good coaches. Even former players, who have represented India at the international level, should get involved. They know the right technique and it’s very important that youngsters get their basics correct. It’s a very technical event so you need to learn the basics the right way because it’s difficult to alter it later.

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