If there is one title that Neeraj Chopra wants to go all out to bag this year, it is the world championships. No Indian athlete has ever won a world title, and Chopra has taken it upon himself to end the long dry spell, just as he did under the Tokyo skyline when he become the first Olympic champion in athletics from the country.
Last year he entered the Eugene Worlds in a similar frame of mind but the body gave up at a crucial moment. Falling behind the field after his initial throws, Chopra roared back into contention in his fourth attempt with a throw of 88.13m. World Champion Anderson Peters still had the lead after two massive 90-plus throws, and to beat him Chopra had to go where he has never reached — the 90m mark and beyond. But the body could not withstand that pressure and he pulled his snout, eventually ending up with a silver medal.
This time, Chopra says he wants to go to the Budapest Worlds with a physics that can help him achieve his goal. The season has started well for him. As the defending Diamond League champion, he won the first leg in Doha (88.67m) but then a muscle strain in training put him off track for seven weeks. In between he missed two events and focused on rehab. On return, Chopra won the Diamond League leg in Lausanne (87.66m) on Friday, but he realized he needs to put in some more hard yards in training. So that when he asks his body to respond to a 90m throw in Budapest, the javelin follows his command.
“After Lausanne, I felt that I want to go to the world championships fully fit, physically and mentally. I want to approach the Worlds with a fresh mind. I think I have to work on my fitness if I have to push myself more in Budapest. Because of the recent injury lot of time has gone in rehab so I need to put more hours in training so that I carry that confidence along,” Chopra said from his base in during an interaction organized by Sports Authority of India (SAI) .
“Last year, I strained my snout in my 4th throw. I could feel the pain while running. The mind was telling me ‘I can do it,’ but physically I was not up for it. The confidence came down. When you have to put all your effort every muscle should help you towards a good throw.”
It is not only the world championships, but with the Diamond League finale in Eugene (Sept 16-17) and Asian Games (Sept 23-Oct 8) lined up in quick succession, Chopra will need a robust body that can take the pressure of back-to-back events. With 16 points in his kitty, after two Diamond League meets, he need not worry about qualifying for the finale. So, the six weeks leading up to the world championships (Aug 19-27) will be part of a crucial preparation phase.
“There is no pressure of qualifying for the Diamond League final. I think I have enough points in my bag. I can think of competing in another leg if there’s a need or if I feel better physically, but right now the focus is on fitness so that it can last for a long time and I enter these events with a strong mindset. The confidence comes only with training and fitness.”
At Lausanne, he waited to throw himself into top gear. Generally, he likes to impose himself on the field but this time the winning throw came as late as his fifth attempt. That said, he has reasons to be satisfied with his performances this season. The off-season training, he did in Loughborough University’s high-performance center and then in Potchefstroom, South Africa has prepared him well for the busy season.
“If you look at both competitions this year, the victory came under tough conditions. In Doha, there was a strong headwind. Throwers were finding it difficult to run and hit the javelin. In Lausanne, I was coming back from an injury and the mindset was different. I was nervous in the beginning. My mind was thinking about the injury, whether I will be able to push myself? When I felt that ‘yes I can push myself,’ then I was more focused, did a proper warm -up, increased my speed on the runway and went for it,” said Neeraj, who is supported by the Target Olympic Podium Scheme.