Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra said his next aim was to breach the 90m mark in the javelin throw. Hours after winning India’s first-ever athletics gold medal at the Olympics, the 23-year-old had already set his sights on the next target.
Indeed, his eyes were set on this target even during his historic final performance after topping the field with his first two, massive throws. Knowing the Olympic record was within reach if he achieved his personal best, he tried to go for it in the next two attempts before cancelling them out.
“The first throw is crucial as if you get it right you put pressure on others. I was able to do that,” Chopra said in a virtual press conference from Tokyo.
Chopra added: “My second throw was also stable and then I felt like I can go for the Olympic record maybe. It is 90.57 and my personal best is 88.07, I thought if I can do my personal best with a record... I tried, added more power and speed but it didn’t happen as javelin is a very technical sport.”
After 87.03m and 87.58m in the first two throws, Chopra’s third attempt was 76.79m before he fouled the next two.
“Now I want to train harder to breach the 90m mark quickly,” he added.
The immediate plan is to return to India and then, if things work out, get back to competition with the Diamond League later this month.
“My main focus this year was Olympics, if visa and training work out, I’ll play the Diamond League,” Chopra said.
Competing abroad was a big factor in his gold-winning performance and Chopra said the experience helped him be calm during his Olympic debut.
“The most important thing this year was to play in international competitions and I was able to go abroad and play. I was used to playing against these players so it didn’t feel very different at the Olympics. So there was no pressure that I am against a different field, I knew I have played against them and I was able to focus better. That’s what helped me,” he added.
It was crucial as he had lost almost two years due to injury and then the pandemic, hitting a setback after a breakthrough 2018 season.
“Lots of ups and down after injuries... the time during the injury was not great and I was able to come back after a successful surgery. It took me a while to come back, lost 2019 and missed the World Championships. The full focus was on the Olympics but the pandemic came about.”
Talking about the impact of his medal on Indian sport, he said it was important after all the near misses over the years.
“India have a gold in shooting and hockey before that,” said Chopra. “But in athletics, Indians were believed to be as good. So many great athletes Milkha Singh, PT Usha missed out on medals by a whisker [finished fourth]. So it was important that we got over the line. So I hope this gold will lead to something special in athletics. Now that I have done it [in athletics] I feel like we can do even better... India has a lot of talent.”
The 23-year-old is only the second Indian to win an individual gold in the Olympics, 13 years after Abhinav Bindra’s shooting gold at the Beijing Games. It’s also independent India’s first-ever Olympics gold medal in athletics.