Responding to a TOI query on his next aim, Neeraj said that he would like to emulate long jumper Anju Bobby George’s feat of winning a medal at the Worlds, even bettering her show by finishing on the top of the podium. Anju, who had secured a fifth-place finish at the Athens Olympics, holds the distinction of being the only Indian track and field athlete to clinch a medal at the World Championships – a bronze at the 2003 edition in Paris.
“I have already won gold at the CWG (Gold Coast 2018) and Asian Games (Jakarta 2018) and now an Olympic gold in Tokyo. So my next target is to win gold at the World Championships next year,” Neeraj told TOI during a felicitation function organised by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) here on Tuesday.
“World Championships is a big competition, sometimes even tougher than the Olympics. I am not going to be content with this Olympics gold and sit on my laurels. I would like to do even better and win gold again at the next year’s CWG and Asian Games and Paris Olympics 2024. The World medal, that is with Anju ma’am for now, and I want to win it too,” he added. Anju, who was sitting next to Neeraj on the stage, smiled and blessed the Olympic champion.
Neeraj Chopra: No proper sleep or food, but this medal makes everything okay
The World Athletics Championships will be held in the US from July 15-24, 2022. It was originally scheduled for this year in USA’s Oregon but was pushed to next year after the Tokyo 2020 was postponed by one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Neeraj said he had hoped to breach the 90m barrier during his medal match in Tokyo – Games record of 90.57m – but couldn’t get the elevation right. The Armyman, however, exuded confidence that he would look to achieve the mark in his future international competitions. “That’s also one of my dreams and, to achieve that, I have to work on the angle of my release and technique. I went for the mark in Tokyo but couldn’t achieve it. I wanted to do it this year but then you have the most important thing, an Olympic gold. I will have to work with my coach to achieve that.”
Neeraj’s biggest rival, Germany’s Johannes Vetter, who didn’t even make the eight-man final after finishing a poor 9th following two disappointing throws — 82m and 82.57m throws, had thrown 90m-plus on seven occasions in 2021, with his personal best being 97.76m. Chopra had a best throw of 87.58 (in his second attempt) in the final, enough to get him the gold. “Vetter is a good friend of mine. We often talk about our game. He couldn’t do well in the Olympics but he is still a world class javelin thrower. He has six-seven 90m-plus throws this year and his best was near the world record of Jan Zelezny. I respect him a lot and want my countrymen to respect him as well,” he added.
Neeraj Chopra: The making of a champion
The 23-year-old said that the turning point in his athletics career was his inclusion in the national camp in 2015. “The training (at the Tau Devi Lal stadium in Panchkula) was good but the facilities, equipment and diet support were not satisfactory. But when I joined the national camp in NIS Patiala, everything changed for me. Apart from the facilities and diet, the feeling that I was training with the country’s best javelin throwers gave me immense confidence. There were foreign coaches as well to guide you, so that also helped. I believe that joining the national camp changed my career.”
Neeraj said he realised the magnitude of his achievement after reaching India with hundreds of people thronging the Delhi airport, and later the Ashoka Hotel, to catch a glimpse of him and his gold. “I was asking myself whether this was a dream. But then every time I see the gold medal with me, I know I am living a dream,” he said.