Tokyo Olympics: “I am trying to give my 100% in training but I am in dire need of competitions, ” ace Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra’s frustration about lack of competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic was clearly visible when he spoke to the media on Wednesday. As an athlete, he adds, competition is as important for growth as training. But with restrictions and travel ban due to the pandemic competitions have been hard to come by in the last two years, leaving Neeraj disappointed.
The Tokyo-bound 23-year-old athlete’s last international competition was the 2020 Athletics Central North East Meeting League in South Africa where he qualified for the Olympics with a throw of 87.86m. Preparing for his debut Games, Neeraj believes competition will help him take his game a notch further.
“I missed the 2019 season due to injury. Then 2020 and nearly half of 2021 have been wasted due to Covid-19. I have requested SAI to help me out with this (competition). We are all training hard but if we can get some competition practice it will be much better,” the 2018 Asian and Commonwealth Games gold medallist said during a zoom interaction on Wednesday.
Tokyo Olympics: Neeraj Chopra aims to breach the 90m mark
Neeraj aims to cross the 90m mark, which would put him in contention for a podium finish if not win the gold medal. The track and field Indian superstar says he is getting closer to that goal and is certain to breach it by the time Tokyo Olympics arrives.
“I have started feeling that the way my training is going, I am getting closer to breach the target. I am ready and if I can get competitions it can happen. But it also depends on if I can do it on the main day. As of now, I am all set,” a confident Neeraj Chopra said.
To why he sounded so positive of reaching his new year target is his throw at the Indian Grand Prix in Patiala in March. Neeraj threw a javelin 88.07m at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala to smash the record books. While the books will show that he threw a Nordic Javelin that far, what it will not show that this was an improvement on his own national mark of 88.06m.
By any measure, this is an elite level throw and would have placed Neeraj on the podium at the previous Olympics. He would have made the cut in the 2016 Olympics had his Junior World Championship throw of 86.48m come before the Olympic qualification cycle ended. The Haryana-born had made a U20 World record with that throw and would have won a bronze medal for India at Rio Olympics.
But the situation is different now. Even fine form and Olympic qualification may not see him in Tokyo as there is a slight chance that Neeraj Chopra and other athletes might have to miss the summer games due to the pandemic. But the Indian thrower is just focused on his work and nothing else.
“I missed the qualification and then just 12 days after that, I threw my career-best of 86.84 which was also a world record. Even if I had thrown a metre less than that I would have won a bronze. But that’s all about mentality. That time has passed. I am giving my all for this Olympics. Everyone knows the Olympics comes once in four years. If it gets cancelled you have to wait for another four years. As of now, we cannot do anything about this situation. All we can do is work hard“.
However, he does feel that he missed some crucial years of his career and gets disappointed with the uncertainty of the Olympics. “Sometimes it does feel bad. I have already missed the two best years of my career due to injury and the pandemic. So, there are times when I question how long will it last. We need targets to train positively. I have Olympics and Diamond League in my mind but if I cannot participate in them then what is the point,” he added.
The Covid-19 related travel restrictions have made it hard for him to participate in international competitions. Neeraj and teammate cum competitor Shivpal Singh were scheduled to leave for Turkey last month for a training-cum-competition tour. But it was later cancelled as they would have to serve hard quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in that country. Disappointed by it, he pointed out the biggest difference between training home and abroad.
“The biggest difference is we can focus completely on training when attending a camp abroad. In India, various family obligations need to be fulfilled. So, this does now allow us to completely devote ourselves to training,” he said adding, “I have spoken with my team and have zeroed in on Sweden or Finland as our training base.”
Neeraj will carry the expectations of 1.3bn people to Tokyo, which is a motivating factor for him. “I feel happy that people have high expectations from me. But I shouldn’t take this as pressure and not think of anything that affects my mind. I don’t know if I will win a medal but I will keep no stone unturned in my effort. My body goes automatically in a different zone during the competition and I get that strength to give my best performance,” he signed off.