The 2023 season is an important one for Neeraj Chopra. With Paris Olympics a year away, the Tokyo Olympics gold medallist knows the year ahead will be crucial as he measures himself against the likes of World Champion Anderson Peters, Tokyo silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch, European champion Julian Weber and so on.

There is the Diamond League Final later in the season in Eugene and Asian Games too, both events where Chopra has title defences to look forward to. Then there is the matter of converting the World Championships silver medal from 2022 to gold in the coming year.

And yet, the one question Chopra is asked whenever he faces the media is whether this will be the year when he finally breaks the 90m mark. It was no different on Sunday, and he was ready with the answer, as he was earlier in the year too.

“This time I’ll end the question of throwing 90m,” Chopra said with a chuckle at a virtual press conference from Turkey.

“They have been asking this question since 2018 after the Commonwealth Games. Last year, I got really close and was just six centimeters short. There’s no over-confidence, but I’m feeling good. When you’re feeling good, you can say it. The training has been good and the performance will be good. There’s no over-confidence nor over-pressure from the 90m mark. Wasn’t there before, isn’t there now,” he said.

It’s a credit to the 25-year-old that he hasn’t been burdened by the 90m mark. Where other athletes might bristle at the constant scrutiny, Chopra sees it as a sign of the belief people have in him. For Chopra, the 90m mark is just the means to an end. It doesn’t matter how far he throws the 800 gram spear as long as he ends up on top of the podium.

“It’s good that everyone believes in me and that is why they have been asking me the same question all these years,” he said, when asked if that scrutiny gets frustrating.

“Ultimately, 90m is just a distance. There are times in events where even with the world’s best javelin throwers present, you get the gold with 85m or 86m. The biggest thing for me is to handle the pressure and perform in an event no matter what the weather and conditions. I won’t be able to throw 90m all the time. The main thing is to throw well on the biggest platforms. I focus on being consistent,” Chopra said.

“I’m not saying 90m is not necessary, it is important. It is a magic number. The 90m club is special among javelin throwers and hopefully I shall also enter it this year,” he added.

Targets for 2023

Chopra begins his 2023 season at the Doha Diamond League meet on 5 May, an event he skipped last year as he felt he wasn’t quite ready to compete at the time. He began 2022 with two second-place finishes at the Paavo Nurmi Games and the Stockholm Diamond League on either side of a gold-medal finish at the Kuortane Games. Chopra believed that having started his training earlier this year, he is technically and mentally in a better space.

“Last year, I didn’t go for the Doha Diamond League because my training time wasn’t a lot. So we decided not to go to Doha because the focus was on the World Championships and the Diamond League final. This time I have trained for longer and I feel like I’m ready,” he added.

“When you have been away from competition for a long time, it takes time to build up your mental strength. That mindset is being built slowly as the competitions come closer.”

At Doha, Chopra will be up against Peters, Vadlejch, Weber as well as 2012 Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott and 2016 Olympics silver medallist Julius Yego (as per the confirmed entries so far). Up against a stacked field, Chopra will be aware of the need to be at his best right from the start. Instead of taking pressure, Chopra expressed his pride in knowing that he is in a privileged position competing against the very best athletes in the world.

“I know which athletes I am competing against so there is no question of taking it easy. It is fun to compete against them. There’s a good relationship among us javelin throwers. When I took up the sport, the dream was to compete against top athletes and now that I am, I enjoy it. The hard work is paying off now,” he said.

A lot of focus will be on his rivalry with Peters, the Grenadian who won gold at the World Championships ahead of Chopra with a 90.54m throw. But having almost won it all in his career so far, Chopra’s focus this year would be to add the elusive world title to complete his collection.

“Last time, I finished second despite suffering a groin injury between my throws. This year, I would like to finish on the top of the podium. Winning the gold in Budapest is the target. I am confident about my chances. At the same time, I am under no pressure or stress,” he said.

Key to winning the World Championship gold will be to stay injury-free in what will be a long year. Chopra had to miss the Commonwealth Games last year after suffering a groin injury in Oregon at the World Championships. He was trailing behind the field after his first three attempts, but the fourth throw saw him go second in the standings. However, giving it all, he ended up with an injury.

Despite feeling pain in his groin after his fourth throw, Chopra went back for his last two throws which ended up aggravating his injury. That, Chopra, said was the lesson he learned in 2022. Knowing when to stop.

“The one lesson I took from last year is that at the World Championships I went after the fourth throw despite the injury. The lesson is to see if I can stop myself in competitions. I didn’t stop myself then. I knew that the throw wouldn’t be good because I had pain. I spoke with my physio (Ishaan Marwaha) and told them that because I am hurting, I might not go for the fifth and sixth throws. But I still went. I put on my straps and went for the throws. I couldn’t stop myself. The big lesson I hope I have learnt is to know to stop if I know there is some injury,” he added.

But now he’s revving to go all over again. Fresh after the off-season break, mentally and physically in a good space, the Olympic champion is eager to compete again because that is what he loves doing. He might have won nearly all the major medals that is there to be won in the sport, but the joy of competition is what keeps him going. All going well, 2023 could be another special year for him.

Update: Entry lists have been confirmed for Doha DL

Javelin (men) entry list:

Triple jump (men) travel list: